Director Michael Winterbottom’s career has essentially been a series of cinematic experiments. Some have been wonderful (24 Hour Party People) and some have been horrendous (9 Songs). That’s just the risk he takes every time. His latest movie Face Of An Angel, is a particularly experimental crack at the bat for Winterbottom. It’s a movie that feels very much like Adaptation as it seems to be about Winterbottom’s internal struggles making his latest movie. Unfortunately, the movie is no Adaptation. Not even close. Ah well. Hit the jump to find out why.
The starting point is a thinly veiled version of the Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher story. For those who forget, Kercher was an American student murdered in Italy and Knox was her roommate who was initially imprisoned for the crime. The case was always a confusing mess with no clear guilty party. After years in prison, Knox was eventually released without any new suspect to take her place. Winterbottom’s film stars Daniel Bruhl as a filmmaker somewhat reminiscent of himself who arrives in Italy planning to turn the story into his next movie (the names are changed, the case is essentially the same). His guide is Kate Beckinsale, an American journalist in Italy who introduces him to as many players in the case as she has access too. Rather quickly, Bruhl realizes that he has no hope of ever determining what actually happened, so he consoles himself with Beckinsale and her genitals.
From there, Bruhl’s character descends into an existential crisis and the movie follows suit around him. He starts to think that the story could be an opportunity for him to do an adaptation of Dante’s Inferno (sure, why not?) and scenes from the film start to resemble that completely with CGI demon attacks (sure, why not?). Then he becomes disinterested in the case/film entirely and starts obsessing over his daughter and failed relationship. Daddy/daughter issues then dominate the movie and Bruhl starts hanging out with a young girl in Siena (Cara Delevingne) as some sort of surrogate substitute. Throughout it all, Bruhl keeps going back to the murder case, which he finds more confusing than ever and Winterbottom’s movie becomes equally confused and unfocused as well.
In theory, that’s the point. Winterbottom’s movie was inspired on a murder trial too complicated to pull anything resembling a single truth out of. So, his movie is just as confounding, episodic, and lacking in closure. It’s how he decided to dramatize that side of the Knox/Kercher story, using it as a springboard to dive headfirst into all sorts of existential angst. He took a similar approach to adapting Tristram Shandy to the screen, turning the original novelof digressions into a film that digresses right out of the book into fictionalized account of the movie’s making. The difference there was that he had Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as anchors of caustic character comedy. Here there is no anchor. Each layer of the film Winterbottom pulls off onto reveals more layers leading to a labyrinth of disconnected ideas in search of a purpose. Even if that mirrors the original murder trial, it doesn’t mean that the movie that emerged is cohesive or even interesting.
Face Of An Angel is a deeply frustrating movie to watch for a variety of reasons, some intentional and some not. It starts off promisingly with a compelling premise, excellent actors, a scenically cinematic location, and a fearless sense of experimentation. As it devolves, the fact that the movie is so well made and performed only adds to the frustration. It’s not like the movie is an incompetently made mess. It’s a project by some major talents flinging a vast sack of ideas at the wall and hoping that some will stick. The more time that goes by, the less ideas stick and by the end it’s hard to care what is happening or even remember what it was that made you care in the first place. Simply put, the film is a gigantic mess. In a sense, the failure is forgivable because this sort of mess can only be achieved when a filmmaker dives into a project with wild ambition striving for results that can’t be predicted. That doesn’t make the movie any more watchable though, nor does it excuse the endless list of problems. It does explain things though. So that’s something. It’s something actually worth sitting through the movie for, but it is something.
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