360 (15) **
Brave (PG) **
Bland bed-hoppers going round in circles
Fate, choice, love: weighty themes, we can all agree. It is a curious effect of the ensemble drama 360 that its makers seem to believe they have not just addressed these themes but somehow invented them too.
Such is the danger of confusing scale with depth. This film has all the scale it can handle, being one of those oh-the-humanity numbers that flits about the globe tracing connections between a bunch of apparently disparate (desperate) characters. Vienna, London, Paris, Rio, Miami and Denver are among the places they stop over. With planes crisscrossing the skies a dominant leitmotif, the film asks us to be impressed by the distance it travels to join them all up.
It sounds like a job for the marketing department of British Airways, but in fact it's been undertaken by director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) and writer Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen). It opens with a Slovenian callgirl (Lucia Siposova) missing an assignation in a Vienna bar with Jude Law's straying businessman. Law's wife (Rachel Weisz) is involved in an affair with a hunky photographer (Juliano Cazarre), whose girlfriend (Maria Flor) has been tracking his infidelity. In Paris, a dentist (Jamel Debbouze) is torn between his Muslim faith and love for his married assistant (Dinara Drukarova), whose unhappy marriage inclines her chauffeur husband (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to dally with the call-girl's sister (Gabriela Marcinkova). Meanwhile, on a flight to Miami bereaved father Anthony Hopkins encounters the photographer's fleeing girlfriend, who puts herself in danger with a convicted sex offender (Ben Foster) on his first day of release.
The inspiration for this daisy chain of desire and rejection is La Ronde, with the global tiki-taka of Babel and 21 Grams also exerting an influence. Morgan's script doesn't quite match Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for levels of self-importance, though you could argue that a sense of grandeur has got the better of him. The film is so busy levering its characters into position it comes up fatally short on characterisation. Do we really believe in their faltering marriage when we have so little evidence of Law and Weisz as people?
As for the various cute meets, they are not enough to lend shape and weight to the characters involved in them. Gabriela Marcinkova's solemn face is a wonderful thing – one only wishes she had been allowed to do more with it. There simply isn't enough screentime for these people to come alive. The exception, oddly, is Hopkins, whose acting I believed had long ago calcified into mannerism. His portrait of a father in search of his daughter, missing presumed dead, is quietly affecting, and the long monologue he does at an AA group meeting is by a distance the best thing here.
This is the sort of big-issue film that producers get very excited about and consequently do their damnedest to fill with a "prestige" cast. Meirelles and co have got that much, but their mistake is to go wide instead of deep. In the end the film it most recalls isn't Babel but the multi-story romance of Love Actually, Richard Curtis's soppy valentine to those Three Little Words. Beneath the tender illusion of strangers bonding with one another you feel the cold manipulation of a commercial artist. 360 has the look of something significant, but it's a put-on: dud, actually.
Brave, an animated fairytale about a mediaeval Scottish princess, presents a problem. If it were the sole work of Disney you would give two cheers for effort and promptly forget all about it. But the film has been made in partnership with Pixar, undisputed masters of the digimated art both in technical wizardry and emotional wallop. Yes, Pixar – so far ahead of the field that they are now obliged to be their own competitors. You can argue the toss over which of the Toy Story trilogy is the greatest, then spend a happy half-hour ranking The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up and the rest in a league table of greatness. On that basis, Brave would be placed way down low – bottom of the heap, I'm afraid.
Its story is one of teenage hubris played against mother-love. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a flame-haired young princess who loves to charge about on horseback and show off her archery skills. She's a wilful young miss, too, and won't easily submit to the royal destiny her mother, the Queen (Emma Thompson) and her King (Billy Connolly) have in store for her. Their plan to marry off their daughter to a likely laird – one from a scrum of brawling neanderthals – drives Merida to a desperate recourse. Happening on a local witch (Julie Walters) the girl acquires a cake that will put her mother under a spell, thus freeing her from nuptial obligations. But the poisoned cake turns the Queen into a bear, and not the cuddly sort but a giant roaring grizzly.
The film, laboured in setting up the conflict, now goes berserk as Queen exits the family castle pursued by the bloodthirsty King and his huntsmen. It's manic without being seductive or ingenious, though this isn't the film's real drawback. That would be the wholly misconceived character of Merida herself. Even if you can get round her distracting resemblance to Rebekah Brooks, the girl is a royal pain in the neck – petulant, whiny, disagreeable – and an outrageous sulk to boot.
Even when her meddling has put her mother in peril she still plays the victim: actually, dear, a humble apology would have sufficed. Against the script's plain intentions you find yourself rooting not for Merida but for her mum, suddenly reduced to the bear necessities. This ursine transformation is the best thing here, startling at first, then funny, and finally quite moving, even without the swirling pipe music to amp up the pathos. Brave still has flashes of the Pixar magic here and there, but from a studio that's a byword for genius this must count as a misfire.
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