Both a journalist and a documentary filmmaker chase the story of a murder and its prime suspect.
‘The Face of an Angel’ is a ripped from the headlines film, based on the real life story of Meredith Kercher’s murder and the subsequent investigation into Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. The release of the film couldn’t have had better timing, with Knox and Sollecito’s official exoneration on the same day likely to drive fresh interest in the case (and subsequently this movie). The film is ostensibly about that case, although Michael Winterbottom’s approach is to fictionalise the event and take the approach of viewing the case through the prism of a film director looking to make a film about the murders. It’s an ambitious approach and I don’t think it succeeds in telling us anything new or interesting about the case, let alone working as a psychological thriller in its own right.
What does the film want to be? It dips its hand in so many areas without spending enough time on any to excel. It wants to critique the sensationalist journalism that surrounds high profile cases like this, but beyond a couple of rants from Thomas (Daniel Brühl), Winterbottom moves onto other angles. It wants to be a ‘Barton Fink’ esque skewering of the writing process and how a story can start to take over a writer’s life to the extent that he can’t tell reality and fiction apart. It uses absurd imagery to portray Thomas’s torment and difficulty in trying to write about the case, but none of it feels earned and the character is difficult to get along with (he seems just as self righteous and stubborn as the journalists). It all comes across as a rather cheap effort to build off a story that’s been all over the news the past few years (ironically what Thomas’s producers are trying to do in the film), but it all feels rather exploitative. Ultimately, the film thinks it’s cleverer than it is, and when Thomas talks about making a film about a writer trying to write a film about the murders (yes you read that correctly!) Winterbottom has gone well and truly down the rabbit hole.
Daniel Brühl has a thankless task with a difficult role and he lacks the opportunities to shine as he’s done in other films recently such as ‘Rush’ and ‘A Most Wanted Man’. We spend all of our time with him, and whilst there are plenty efforts at outlining what makes him tick, he is ultimately pretty difficult to root for. In the other main roles, Kate Beckinsale is barely fleshed out as an American journalist, but the biggest (and most pleasant) surprise of the film is model Cara Delevigne’s performance, who was stronger than I expected as a charming exchange student. Valerio Mastandrea was also excellent as a creepy local with an unusually large amount of information about the crime, but his performance feels like it belongs in a different movie.
I found ‘The Face of an Angel’ to be a tasteless exercise in capitalising on a high profile murder case, and there’s nothing in Michael Winterbottom’s film that is interesting enough to justify the existence of this movie. Going by the dialogue anyway, the film Thomas was going to make about the case was likely to have ended up as poor as this film ended up being. Not recommended
Directed By: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Kate Beckinsale, Cara Delevingne and Valerio Mastandrea