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Face of an Angel, The

D: Michael Winterbottom / 100m

Cast: Daniel Brühl, Kate Beckinsale, Valerio Mastandrea, Cara Delevingne, Corrado Invernizzi, John Hopkins, Genevieve Gaunt

Thomas (Brühl) is a documentary filmmaker who becomes interested in making a movie about the media circus surrounding the trial for murder of student Jessica Fuller (Gaunt), who, with her boyfriend, is accused of killing her roommate. He meets journalist Simone Ford (Beckinsale), and she provides him with the background material he needs in relation to the murder and the people involved. As Thomas begins to look into the case he finds himself focusing on the ways in which the spotlight has caught Jessica in its gaze, and how the media have lost sight of the victim. He determines to make his movie about this (perceived) injustice, and begins to interview the various players.

In doing so, Thomas meets a young English student, Melanie (Delevingne). She helps him with introductions within the community that Jessica is part of, but by this stage he’s already finding it difficult to write his script, and his frustration has led to him drinking heavily and taking drugs. When Thomas is introduced to Francesco (Invernizzi), who appears to know too much about the murder, and who Thomas believes is involved, it leads him to try and solve the mystery of the murder, and what exactly happened to Jessica’s roommate. But Thomas finds himself increasingly adrift in the town where the trial is taking place, and begins to have trouble sifting reality from fantasy, as his drink and drug use causes him to become desperate to find the truth.

Face of an Angel, The - scene

Michael Winterbottom’s career has always been an interesting and very often challenging one. He’s a director who’s unafraid to take risks – 9 Songs (2004), The Killer Inside Me (2010) – and his ability to genre hop and still maintain an impressive track record of movies, is unimpeachable. However, he does sometimes trip up, and for every 24 Hour Party People (2002) there’s a Genova (2008), and sadly, despite the movie’s real-life background and inspiration – Barbie Latza Nadeau’s book Angel Face – The Face of an Angel falls into the latter category.

While it’s refocused look at the Amanda Knox trial gives the movie a sense of immediacy, it’s overwhelmed by the decision to make Thomas’s gradual emotional and intellectual disintegration more important than the story he’s looking into. The movie’s initial examination of the machinations and narrow-sighted approach of the media soon gives way to Thomas’s increasingly fevered, personal investigation, and the possibility that Francesco is the real killer. Alas, by doing so, Winterbottom and writer Paul Viragh commit the same sin they’re seeking to expose at the beginning, and lose sight of the victim as well. What doesn’t help is that Thomas, despite Brühl’s best efforts, is charmless and unlikeable, and this makes it difficult for the audience to engage or sympathise with him. Beckinsale is underused, while Delevingne delivers a fresh, natural performance as Melanie.

Rating: 4/10 – unbearably arch at times, with the character of Thomas continually placed in situations where he’s clearly out of his depth, The Face of an Angel is an unnecessarily glum, and surprisingly tedious, outing from the usually reliable Winterbottom; the location photography is a much-needed bonus, and the basic idea is sound, but in its execution, the movie strays too far from its own agenda.

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