When Fernando Meirelles’ “360” premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival last fall, the reviews were not great. In the case of Catherine Shoard‘s one-star pan in The Guardian, not great is putting it mildly. Like, super super mildly:
“It’s a two-hour slog stuffed with shortcuts, populated by puppets who must indulge in behavior that isn’t just off-kilter, it’s off the wall. One gorgeous young woman chats up our secret sex offender in an airport then practically forces him to sleep with her. ‘Met someone really cute,’ she writes in a note to a friend. But objectively speaking this man ain’t a cutie. Not only is he plain unfriendly, he’s straight from the ‘just-released rapist’ drawer at central casting, with his big twitches and dreadful hair… All this would be more excusable if the payoff was memorable but ‘360”s conclusions seem suited more to tea-towels than art. The two we’re given here are — and I quote — ‘you only live once’ and ‘fuck it.’ Let’s hope they patent those pronto.”
Do you think Central Casting really has a whole drawer of headshots of dudes who looked like “just-released rapists?” As an actor, it must suck to get your picture in that drawer.
Anyway, yes, Shoard hated the movie. Statistically speaking — at Rotten Tomatoes, “360”‘s approval rating sits at just 42% — she wasn’t alone. The headline of The Telegraph‘s “360” two-star review is “How To Make Sex Boring;” critic Robbie Collin also compares the movie to a series of “downbeat sex skits, slotted together with all the finesse of an Ikea cabinet.” Still, something about Shoard’s review struck a chord. According to Meirelles in an interview with Little White Lies, that piece really got to “360” screenwriter Peter Morgan, who was so upset he apparently considered quitting screenwriting:
“I was in Toronto with Peter [Morgan] and he was devastated for almost a month — he said, ‘I’m not going to write anymore.’ If she knew what she had done to him… she took all the energy from him, really drew all the life… It’s mean, you know? It’s not about, ‘This is my job,’ — no it’s not. You can take issue with the work, or this or that problem, but it seems the way she wrote was quite perverse. I don’t know if she’s aware of how destructive and mean she can be. And the bad thing is that her review — which, thank goodness, I never read — because it was from the Guardian, when you Google ‘360’ the first thing you get is bam! the Guardian: ‘Oh, this was a flop, wasn’t it?’ It’s very irresponsible, I think.”
Personally, I’d rather be compared to tea-towels than Ikea furniture (I like tea a lot). Regardless, the creators’ reaction to this particular review speaks to the impact one article can have on the fate of a film, and the way that impact can beyond the critic’s control.
As Meirelles notes, when you type “360 film” into Google, Shoard’s review is the third search result, after a Wikipedia page and an IMDb page. In a sense, that does make the review destructive, whether intentionally or not (I reached out to Shoard for comment; so far, no response). Let’s say you’re just a casual film fan, and you hear passing mention of “360” as a new film from the director of “City of God.” You Google the film — “360 film” — and click the first review that comes up — The Guardian‘s. It’s a complete and utter dismissal. You might be curious to read more, or you might give up there and decide to see something else. That, at least from the filmmakers’ perspective, is pretty destructive.
I don’t know if that necessarily makes the piece “irresponsible” though. The critic’s job is to honestly and accurately convey what they saw and how they interpret it. Headlines (which are often chosen by editors, not critics) can influence where a review winds up in Google searches — “‘360′ review'” will generate more traffic than “Around the World With Fernando Meirelles’ New Movie” — but only so far. Dismissing the story as a “daisy-chain” and comparing the actors to “puppets” may not be all that tactful or diplomatic, but if that’s how Shoard really felt, that’s what she’s supposed to write. Her responsibility lies with her readers, not with the filmmakers.