The Face of an Angel
dir Michael Winterbottom
scr Paul Viragh
prd Melissa Parmenter
with Daniel Bruhl, Kate Beckinsale, Cara Delevingne, Valerio Mastandrea, Genevieve Gaunt, Sai Bennett, Ava Acres, Rosie Fellner, Ranieri Menicori, John Hopkins, Alistair Petrie, Peter Sullivan
release UK 27.Mar.15, US 30.Jun.15
14/UK 1h40
The Face of an Angel
In search of the story: Bruhl

beckinsale delevingne winterbottom
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Face of an Angel Winterbottom heads back to Italy (see Genova and The Trip to Italy) for this dark drama based on the Meredith Kercher murder, fictionalising the characters so he can explore some bigger themes. But the film is murky and uneven, mixing important ideas with flights of artistic fancy that never quite resonate.

Thomas (Bruhl) is in Sienna to make a movie of the headline-grabbing court case about a student (Gaunt) accused of brutally killing her flatmate (Bennett). To get the story, Thomas hangs out with cynical foreign journalists, including Simone (Beckinsale), who's working on a true crime book. But Thomas feels there are too many angles to make a movie, especially after meeting Edoardo (Mastandrea), an expert in the case who's trying to sell his screenplay. So Thomas decides to solve the case himself, hiring sexy young Melanie (Delevingne) to help him navigate the town.

Winterbottom brings considerable style and atmosphere with snappy editing that cross-cuts between flashbacks, dreams and reality. This quickly establishes the story then completely muddies it with conflicting points of view, memories and conjecture. And the focus is further blurred as Thomas dashes back and forth between his life in London and his work in Sienna. Even so, there's an undercurrent of intrigue as the mystery develops in the shadows, with dodgy alibis, a rush to a guilty verdict and the clear possibility that the official story is not the truth.

Bruhl is fine in a fragmented role, Beckinsale barely registers at all, and Delevingne has terrific screen presence in a badly conceived role. All of them are swamped by heavy-handed metaphors. For example, Thomas is reading Dante's Inferno, which combines with his coke addiction to give him a series of feverishly freaky hallucinations. He also continually talks about how hard it is to make a movie based on a real event, just as Winterbottom demonstrates this himself.

Yes, even the meta-touches are overstated. But there's a nice sense of how difficult real life is to wedge into a narrative structure. So the trial, as depicted here, feels like a reality TV show in which the prettiest, sexiest people are the winners, whether or not they're guilty. There's no sense of truth or justice. And in the end, as the focus suddenly shifts to the victim and her family's grief, the film's various strands begin to feel not only maudlin but more than a little superfluous.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 19.Jan.15

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