The Face of an Angel
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Both a journalist and a documentary filmmaker chase the story of a murder and its prime suspect.
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★★★★ review by Colleen on Letterboxd
TIFF film #3
Last night I checked out the world premiere of Michael Winterbottom’s latest film, The Face of an Angel, at TIFF. Starring Daniel Bruhl, Kate Beckinsale, and model Cara Delevingne, the movie’s description on the TIFF website quickly makes reference to the fact that it’s inspired by the infamous trial of Amanda Knox, the young woman who in 2007 was accused of brutally murdering her roommate as they both studied abroad in Italy and whose trial played out under the glare of the media. However, while a fictionalized version of that case is the backdrop for The Face of an Angel, Winterbottom clearly has greater ambitions than to tell a salacious story of murder, and The Face of an Angel is much more interesting because of it.
Daniel Bruhl plays Thomas, a film director of fading fame who decides to explore this murder in his next movie by telling a fictionalized version of it. That’s where the film becomes a little more difficult to describe, as the narrative becomes quite meta-fictional and becomes far less about the murder and far more about Thomas’ own demons and the way the story of this murder haunts him. It’s a “movie within a movie”, as the film that Thomas is attempting to write is also called The Face of an Angel and many of the concepts and structures that Thomas says he wants to explore in his movie are on full display in Winterbottom’s own film. Structurally, it reminded me a bit of Spike Jonze’s Adaptation; at one point, Thomas explicitly says that he wants his film to follow the story arc of Dante’s Divine Comedy and describes what that would entail. Sure enough – without giving too much away – the Face of an Angel movie that we the audience are watching plays out very closely to Thomas’ vision.
I give The Face of an Angel credit for going in a completely different direction than I was expecting. For the first half hour or so, it seemed like quite a rote crime procedural that didn’t really grab me. Thomas spends a lot of time talking to Simone (Kate Beckinsale), a savvy journalist who fills him in on the ins and outs of the trial and patiently explains all of the discrepancies in the evidence and witness accounts. For anyone even moderately familiar with the Amanda Knox case, all this exposition feels quite redundant; the real story is beyond the facts and the courtroom. Thankfully, Winterbottom and screenwriter Paul Viragh are well aware of this, and as the story unfolds, many new layers of uncertainty reveal themselves. As Thomas states, the “truth” behind the crime is virtually unknowable, so why jump to make your own assumptions? Why not make a movie about the fact that it’s unknowable?
Some viewers will likely be frustrated by the film’s refusal to draw neat conclusions. (Indeed, during the Q&A after the screening I was at, one audience member tried to press Winterbottom and the cast about their own opinions on the Knox trial with no avail.) It’s far more interested in exploring the various ways that the truth can be refracted – through the bias of journalism, through fictionalized retellings, or simply through one’s own worldview – and how perspective is malleable.
For me, this was by far the most interesting element of the movie, which is perhaps both a compliment an insult. Winterbottom is one smart guy, and he sneakily slips in a lot for viewers to ponder with this meta-fictional approach. (This is perhaps not surprising, considering he also made Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, which tackles similar ideas in very different ways.) However, the actual story of the film never feels quite as compelling as all of these ideas that Winterbottom is offering up. The characters feel like they’re kept slightly at arm’s length from the audience (which is probably the point) and while the narrative is interesting enough, it never quite clicks into gear to work wholly as a piece of entertainment. If you don’t find the structure and self-referential aspects of the film interesting, I could see some viewers becoming rather bored by The Face of an Angel.
For me, this is one of those films that I’m finding myself enjoying more after the fact than when I was actually watching it. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s yet another movie that proves that Winterbottom – while not always entirely successful – always brings a unique and daring eye to his work.
★★★★ review by ghostsarereal on Letterboxd
If you're looking for someone to tell you a version of the Amanda Knox story, you're going to be as disappointed as a lot of IMDB reviewers. This is as much a movie about how difficult it is to solve a mystery as it is a mystery story. And more than that, it's about whose responsibility it is to tell stories in the first place, and what they owe to their audiences.
It's pretty slow, and quiet, but it's beautifully shot, and it doesn't offer any easy answers. If I knew more about the Divine Comedy, I'd probably be able to pull out some parallels, but as it was, I just had to accept everything the film told me about Dante. I don't think it suffered from that, particularly...
I do want to know, though, whether the names of the two girls - Elizabeth, the 'good girl', and Jessica, the 'bad girl' - were deliberate Sweet Valley High references? Gotta be, right?
★★★½ review by Blair on Letterboxd
This had some really terrible reviews when it came out, and had such a limited release I couldn't find a cinema to see it in; but I had a feeling I'd like it, and so I did. The Face of an Angel is not actually a film about (a fictionalised version of) the Kercher/Knox case but rather a film about making a film about (a fictionalised version of) the Kercher/Knox case. It has a lot in common with director Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy in that sense. It skirts around what's supposed to be the real story and moves away from the initial crime-orientated plot to make the filmmaker, Thomas, the main focus. The best bits were the very naturalistic conversations between Thomas and his colleagues and friends, about how the case was being perceived and manipulated, about how to best present the story in a screenplay.
Still, there's stuff wrong with it and I can understand why it hasn't been very well received in general. Cara Delevingne is actually a decent actress and does a really good job with her character, but I didn't understand the relationship between her and Thomas at all. They barely knew each other and then it suddenly turned into this whole ~I just want you to be happy~ thing as if they were best friends out of nowhere, and next thing you know they're on a road trip together. When the film turned into a film about their relationship (or interaction?) I wasn't sure why I was meant to care. I found it confusing that the actresses playing Elizabeth and Jessica (the Kercher and Knox characters) looked practically identical, and I also found the virtual sanctification of Elizabeth ridiculous.
★★★★ review by J.P. Vitale on Letterboxd
This new Michael Winterbottom film based very loosely on the Amanda Knox case is his odd take on Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's "Adaptation" only there's no Donald Winterbottom or even Michael, just a cokeheaded filmmaker played by Daniel Bruhl who is having a hard time adapting the true crime story of a Knox-like murder suspect and who gets to hook up with both Kate Beckinsale's investigative reporter and Cara Delevigne's adorable waitress/aspiring actress, all while longing to be reunited with his daughter Bea, who is back home with her mother/his ex.
This movie is pretty good though it doesn't hold hands and there are some weird dream sequences that'll make you go WTF?
★★★★ review by Aarom Acero on Letterboxd
Me encanta ver una película por una idea banal y superficial como lo es ver a Cara Delevigne actuando (me sorprendió, no sabía que tiene tantas expresiones faciales).
Aprecio mucho el uso de una metáfora y una narratología tan bella, y siento que nadie va a saber apreciarla como se debe. Imaginen, una película sobre un director (Daniel Brühl) que esta en la fase de construcción y creatividad de la obra, y Michael Winterbottom nos propone que mientras este director (Daniel Brühl) cambia su dirección de la historia va cambiando la historia del relato. La verdad no creo que me estoy haciendo entender pero es una cosa muy genial y disfrutable de la película que si no fuese por sus elementos mainstream fastidiosos yo la fuese disfrutado mejor.
Suma puntos por todo la relación metafórica con Dante y la Divina Comedia, y ese último plano super intimo que te da a sentir que la película termina.
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