360, London Film Festival

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The Independent Culture

The London Film Festival (which launched last night) hasn't done itself many favours with its choice of opening film. 360, the latest feature from City of God director, Fernando Meirelles, already screened last month (to a very mixed response) in Toronto. It is disappointing that a festival of the LFF's stature cannot secure world premieres of its own for its most prestigious slots but relies instead on titles that have already had the sheen wiped off them.

360 is ostensibly inspired by Schnitzler's La Ronde, a play set in turn-of-the-century Vienna that explores the sexual behaviour of a group of interlinked characters. However, the screenplay (by Peter Morgan) has more in common with the work of Guillermo Arriaga (Babel, Amores Perros) than with Viennese comedy-drama. This is a very dark affair set across different continents. Dingily shot, largely set in airports or anonymous hotels, it is shorn of all romanticism. The film-makers' preoccupation is with betrayal, inequality, sexism and the growing gulf between rich and poor.

Jude Law plays a British businessman who is tempted by a young Slovakian prostitute (Lucia Siposova) in Vienna and ends up blackmailed as a result. Back home in London, his wife (Rachel Weisz) is having a torrid affair with a Brazilian photographer. The photographer's girlfriend (Maria Flor), dismayed at being cheated on, has decided to return to Rio and build a new life. On the plane, she meets an older man (Anthony Hopkins), still grieving over the disappearance of his daughter many years before. During a stopover in a snowbound airport, she also has a very creepy encounter with a young American (Ben Foster), a sex offender who has just been let out of prison.

This is the filmic equivalent of a relay race. Some legs work very well but, during others, Meirelles and his team risk dropping the baton altogether. Law is very effective as the seemingly upright Brit, talking on his mobile phone to his daughter about pet dogs moments before he is due to meet the prostitute. Hopkins brings gravitas and pathos to his role as the grieving dad with the adulterous past.

The cumbersome use of split screen to show the different protagonists soon begins to grate. Improbabilities mount. Characters remain fatally undeveloped and the plotting becomes ever more random. It is easier to accept coincidence in a playful romantic comedy than it is in a brooding drama like this.