While Michael Winterbottom’s ambitious true-crime thriller The Face of an Angel questions society’s fascination with real murder investigations, the film’s drama isn’t psychologically complex enough to provide thoughtful answers. Based on journalist Barbie Latza Nadeau’s nonfiction account of American student Amanda Knox’s Italian murder trial, The Face of an Angel follows washed-up filmmaker Thomas (Rush‘s Daniel Brühl) as he struggles to write a screenplay about the global community’s fascination with Siena transplant Elizabeth Pryce’s (Sai Bennett) highly publicized murder.
But while screenwriter Paul Viragh implicates opportunistic journalists and film producers who oversimplify the facts of such cases, Viragh himself constantly reduces the trial to Thomas’s personal quest for answers. Thomas’s unfocused character arc suggests that Viragh sympathizes with Thomas when he condescendingly tells his colleagues that their ideal audience “[wants] to do puzzles without solutions,” but the most compelling parts of The Face of an Angel are the scenes where Viragh and Winterbottom focus on Thomas’s search for the kitchen knife that was used to kill Elizabeth.
To be fair, The Face of an Angel fails to distinguish itself as a cerebral murder-mystery because its creators are only infrequently interested in being suspenseful. The rest of the film is a poorly deconstructed search for deeper meaning that Thomas only finds when he’s snorting cocaine, chasing after twentysomething waitress Melanie (Cara Delevingne), and confronting reporters who pontificate about how “important [it is] to look death in the face to understand life.” The Face of an Angel may not be like any other whodunit you’ve seen, but it’s also only superficially smarter than the genre it defines itself against.
The Face of an Angel
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Screen Media Films
Opens June 19, Cinema Village