*This post contains spoilers*
Michael Winterbottom’s The Face Of An Angel, released in 2015, had a negative response from critics. A fictional film about filmmaker, Thomas, who is commissioned to tell the untold truth of a murder case currently in the appeal process. The case concerns American Student, Jessica, who has spent four years in prison (along with her Italian boyfriend) and is appealing her sentence. This strand of the narrative is based on the trial of Amanda Knox for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Although the main motivation of the film and its characters stem from this trial, I did not consider the main avenue of the film to concern the actual Knox case.
We follow a conflicted Thomas (Daniel Bruhl) who does not wish to make a film about ‘truth’ as he believes there is no truth. Whilst reading Dante’s Inferno, he considers the ideas of life and death which is apparent for him due to his following of the trial. Many criticised Winterbottom’s lack of direction, the critics of Rotten Tomatoes claimed…
The Face Of An Angel finds director Michael Winterbottom in pursuit of ideas that remain frustratingly diffuse and agonizingly out of his grasp.
I find this interesting, as their description of Winterbottom’s directorship of the film reflects who Thomas himself feels in the narrative. Through this the idea of life and death as not absolute truths can be explored.
Thomas finds himself in a swarm of journalists who appear akin to sharks smelling blood and ripping all in the vicinity to shreds. He seems to struggle with a sense of morality both with the case and within himself. We are given an insight into his dreams where a first person viewpoint shows Michael dreaming of murdering his wife when he catches her having an affair. (with a knife, one of the main talking points of the case at hand) At one point Thomas seems to take on the detective persona, stealing ‘murder weapons’ and climbing from second story windows. However, this, like the film, amounts to nothing much at all.
We follow Thomas through his struggle to create an authentic film. He studies Dante, goes to student parties, snorts cocaine and has a sordid encounter with his journalist contact Simone (Kate Beckinsale) all for the purpose of his film. Yet at the end of the narrative he receives a phone call that they have moved on with a different director, (most likely because of Thomas’ desire for an authentic story) which feels like a bit of an anti-climax. I can understand a sense of disappointment with the narrative not having a concrete ending. However, the lack of a sense of achievement in the creating of Thomas’ film reflects the principle that how he is feeling and what he is exploring is more than just for the purpose of his directorial reinstatement. He continues to write his ‘truth’ after the phone call. Despite the journalists claiming that he too is now one of them, Thomas remains authentic in his approach to the death of Elizabeth Pryce.
It’s important that its a story based on truth, but I want to do something that transcends that, that its not just a simple reconstruction.
The film danced between the reality of Thomas’ experience, his drug induced fantasies and the ‘truth’ of the murder trial. However, among the roller coaster of perspective there were a few moments of dialogue that resonated real ideas concerning life and death. Concepts that Thomas explores through the trial and through Dante’s comedy. Although it didn’t have the best critical reception I would still recommend it as a film to watch.