'The Face of an Angel'
Michael Winterbottom’s latest cinematic experiment starts off loosely based on a filmmaker investigating the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher in Italy before almost instantly dropping that subject matter in favor of a character study of a filmmaker loosely based on Winterbottom. It’s a very ‘Adaptation’-esque project, only without a Charlie Kaufman screenplay. So, not nearly as good.
For those who forget, Meredith Kercher was an American student mysteriously murdered in Italy. Her roommate Amanda Knox was arrested for the crime, only to be released four years later due to a lack of evidence. Daniel Brühl stars as Winterbottom’s stand-in, struggling to make a movie about this mystery with no answer. Quickly, Brühl becomes distracted by the beautiful reporter who brought him into the case (Kate Beckinsale) and ‘The Face of an Angel’ transforms into a movie of diversions.
Characters are introduced as murder suspects and then dismissed. Brühl’s confusion segues into an existential crisis. His screenplay (within the screenplay) turns into an adaptation of Dante’s ‘Inferno’, and Winterbottom’s movie follows suit. It’s a strange, mutating beast that can never decide what it’s about beyond artistic obsession and philosophical confusion. Not in a good way either.
Winterbottom is a filmmaker who always takes risks, and ‘The Face of an Angel’ is essentially one big feature-length risk. Winterbottom tosses every possible idea against the wall and hopes that some stick. (There are even CGI demons at one point. No, I’m not kidding. Wish I was.) You’ve got to admire the wild ambition it takes to make a movie like this, but it’s hard to admire the movie itself. It’s just too confused and messy. It’s hard to even pinpoint exactly what Winterbottom is going for despite the conviction of the actors, an intriguing premise, beautiful Italian locations, and the director’s skillful visual storytelling.
The movie is frustratingly unfocused, even though that’s the point. Experimenting with digressions and meta-filmmaking is fine if there’s some sort of purpose. Otherwise, the result is just a big sloppy mess.