Michael Winterbottom uses a real-life murder case as a springboard for drama
After sending funny men Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon munching their way around Italy for TV series / film The Trip to Italy, prolific British director Michael Winterbottom stays in the region for his latest movie. This, however, is anything but comedy – it's inspired by the media kerfuffle surrounding the 2007 murder in Perugia of British exchange student Meredith Kercher, and in particular the prosecution of her American flatmate Amanda Knox, who was released on appeal after serving nearly four years in prison, only to be found guilty again by Italy's supreme court.
Winterbottom alters the names of those involved and has no interest in the whys and wherefores of the real-life crime, instead he's intrigued by the lurid fascination the case generated. In The Face of an Angel, Daniel Brühl plays Thomas, a slightly washed-up filmmaker who arrives in Italy in the hope of using the story as the subject for his next movie. His way in is Kate Beckinsale’s journalist Simone, one of the ‘hack pack’ reporting the trial in all its gory detail, and the scenes lifting the lid on the rapacious media coverage are among the film’s best.
Where it begins to go wrong is in the second half, as Thomas’ attention gets turned – initially by Simone, and then a young waitress named Melanie (model-of-the-moment Cara Delevingne). He loses interest in the trial, thinks about adapting Dante’s Inferno, then starts vividly hallucinating, leading the film down a series of cul-de-sacs. If it’s meant to somehow represent the confused nature of the case, it’s a strange – and not entirely satisfactory – approach.
Not unlike Winterbottom’s earlier A Cock and Bull Story – which humorously dealt with the difficulties of adapting Tristram Shandy for the big screen – you can sense the director's struggle here, wrestling with how to take on such a story. Like Thomas, you suspect he started out with a very different film in mind; the problem is, what he's ended up with is a mixed bag.
Selected release from Fri 27 Mar.