The Face of an Angel
Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Kate Beckinsale, Daniel Brühl, Cara Delevingne, Genevieve Gaunt, Alistair Petrie, Sai Bennett, Rosie Fellner, Valerio Mastandrea, Corrado Invernizzi. Written by Paul Viragh, from the novel by Barbie Latza Nadeau.
An overbearingly self-righteous diatribe that manages the neat feat of both exploiting the Amanda Knox trial and chastising viewers for having any interest in the case in the first place, The Face of an Angel is an incredibly misguided, positively excruciating experience to watch unfold on the screen.
That’s a surprise coming from director Michael Winterbottom, who has churned out a prolific number of films over the past two decades and isn’t in the business of making duds; he’s shown a sure hand with a wide array of material, including true-story drama (A Mighty Heart), B-movie noir (The Killer Inside Me), documentaries (The Road to Guantanamo), and comedy (The Trip, 24 Hour Party People).
The Face of an Angel is a mishmash of all of these genres, though the comedy is purely unintentional. What it reminded me of the most, however, is Italian giallo, with Daniel Brühl’s vapid filmmaker poking around crime scenes in the dark during sequences that go absolutely nowhere until he gets eaten by a lizard monster leftover from Jupiter Ascending.
Yeah, that really happens – and elicited howls of laughter at a recent Febio Fest screening – in this otherwise deadly-serious true-crime drama purportedly based on Angel Face: Sex, Murder and the Inside Story of Amanda Knox, a Daily Beast tabloid account of the case written by Barbie Latza Nadeau and “adapted” by Paul Viragh for the screen.
But there’s precious little of that story actually on the screen, and the names have been changed to, presumably, protect the filmmakers from lawsuits and further embarrassment.
Brühl stars as Thomas, a filmmaker hired to make a film version out of the expat murder in Peruglia that has shocked the world. He flies to Italy to meet Simone Ford (Kate Beckinsale), who has covered the trial from the beginning and published a book about it.
Simone is clearly a stand-in for Barbie Latza Nadeau, and Thomas represents either screenwriter Viragh or director Winterbottom; somehow, I suspect that little of Viragh’s script has ended up on the screen, either.
Amanda Knox, or whatever her name has been changed to in this film version, is languishing in prison awaiting the result of an appeal; she and two others have been convicted of brutally murdering her flatmate years earlier. As the courts convene for their announcement, the media is swept into another frenzy.
As Thomas “investigates” the case – when he’s not snorting coke and getting drunk, he meets with tabloid reporters and a mysterious blogger who might be the real killer – something strange happens: he gets drawn into the ordeal on a personal level while becoming disinterested with it as a filmmaker, telling his producers the film version should be fictional, and it should focus on Ford’s reporter rather than the actual trial.
They give Thomas the same look the audience does: who is this idiot, and what is he trying to do here? In the movie, the filmmaker is fired; in real life, unfortunately, Winterbottom was somehow allowed to complete this self-indulgent mess.
The lone bright light in this thing is the lovely Cara Delevingne, who stars as a bartender who introduces Brühl’s character to the seedy underbelly of the Peruglia nightlife. Delevingne, an English model-turned-actress soon to be seen in Suicide Squad, is far too buoyant and charismatic to be trapped in this downbeat dreck (and particularly in a relationship with Brühl’s unlikable lead).
The central conceit of The Face of an Angel is thusly: the “Angel Face” is not Amanda Knox, as reported by the tabloids, but Meredith Kercher, the murder victim who nobody seems to care about. Winterbottom hammers this point home during a closing shot in which the actress playing the character that represents Kercher stares at the audience; if only the rest of his film gave a damn about the real-life victim.
There is a real story in the Amanda Knox case, one in which an innocent victim is railroaded into a murder conviction by the tabloid media and an absurd legal system because she slept around and bought a vibrator (the Italian judges’ in Knox’s first trial, incredibly, single this out in their report), and languished in prison for three years after the real killer was convicted in 2008. Judy Bachrach wrote a nice recap of the case for Vanity Fair a few weeks ago, after the courts finally exonerated Knox of all charges.
If you’re interested in self-indulgent meta-filmmaking, a reactionary piece of cinema in which the reaction seems to be apathy, then The Face of an Angel might be a worthwhile experiment to sit through. Anyone interested in the Amanda Knox case, however – or even coherent storytelling in general – is advised to avoid this garbage.
Note: about 5-10% of The Face of an Angel is in Italian, subtitled only in Czech on Prague screens.