The Face Of An Angel
When is a film about a murder, not a film about a murder? Well, when it is The Face of an Angel. Michael Winterbottom's new film tries to look at a murder from the viewpoint of someone looking at the people who are creating the viewpoint we consume. Lost yet? It is an ambitious attempt to try and get past the hyperbole and look at the impact of a murder. And the murder they have chosen is one of the most well documented murders of our times, that of Meredith Kercher. It is odd writing this sat only about two miles from Coulsdon in Surrey, were Meredith lived before heading off to Uni and then Perugia in 2007, a journey from which she would never come home. The case has become mired in ineptitude of proportions that, even when you consider the much questioned Italian legal system, boggles the mind. At the centre of it is an American student named Amanda Knox. Volumes have been written about the case, and Amanda in particular, and now we have a film. Or do we?
The Face of an Angel takes the framework of the Kercher murder and then looks at it from the viewpoint of an outsider. Other than changing the names of the real life people, Meredith becomes Elizabeth (played in flashback by Sai Bennet) and Amanda becomes Jessica (played by Geneviene Gaunt), and the location (Perugia becomes Siena), the basics of the case remain the same. The courtroom scenes and the passages of Jessica's diary, come directly from the real case. Our entry point to this world is Daniel Bruhl's Thomas. Thomas is a writer-director hired to make a film adaptation of journalist Simone Ford's (an American accented Kate Beckinsale) book about the case and Jessica. Early on Thomas is told by Simone not to make it factual, but to make the film a fiction as the case is beyond fact. Very soon we see this is very much true. Simone is Thomas' in into the world that has developed around the case. Simone introduces Thomas to the journalists who have been covering the case for two years. We get the usual mix of movie-journo types, the tabloid writer, the American news anchor who's network hold the exclusive writes to Jessica and her family's story, and the freelancers making a buck out of every sliver of story they can. Thomas, an estranged father, is struggling to see why the focus is on Jessica, but comes to realise, as do we, that know one really cares about Elizabeth, Jessica pays the bills. It with this basis we get the rest of the film. Thomas trying to find the story, but being slowly dragged down by it, unable to understand why no one can care about the victim.
This is an admirable quality of the film, trying to get the focus back on the girl, the victim, that the narrative in the story has moved beyond. In the film, as in real life, Elizabeth and Meredith are no longer a part of their own murder. It is all about the accused. What the filmmakers, Winterbottom and writer Paul Viragh, are trying to do is what Thomas struggles with, no one in the film world cares, the money is in and on the hot American student who may or may not have done it. Framing the film around Dante Alighieri's Inferno, they picture Thomas, as he grasps for answers that are not there, falling deeper into the hell that has been created around the case. This device is only partly successful and has to be explained by having Thomas reading Dante throughout, so you know what is going on. While Bruhl is very good throughout, Kate Beckinsale is brutally underused. Being set up as the entry point to the story, she quickly becomes little more than a bed fellow for Thomas in a couple of unnecessary scenes, that distract from the bigger picture. What does work, surprisingly enough, is Cara Delevingne's Melanie. Melanie is an English student living the life Elizabeth never got too. It is through her we see why these girls came to Italy. And it is this device that allows us to bring our focus onto the girl from up the road, the one with dreams and hopes, the one who is only remembered as a footnote in another woman's story. It also proves that whoever hires Cara for their next campaign should get her to smile rather than the trademarked Delevingne pout, she lights up the screen when she does, and it is through that freeness we can imagine what could have been, what should have been.
Even now, 8 years later, Amanda Knox's name is enough in a headline to sell a story. Just Google her name, better still, click HERE, I've done it for you and you'll see that even away from the courtroom, she is still news. What is even more sad, is try Googling Meredith HERE, you'll get more returns for Amanda than you will for her. We live in a world where the "who done it" and "how was it done" are far more important questions to the public that than "who the victim was". Every victim has a name, a story, a life. The Face of an Angel, while not achieving the goals it clearly sets out, succeeds in reminding us that the Angel in the title is not the beautiful girl with the "unfeeling eyes" who is getting married later this year, but the girl from down the road who never got to have that opportunity.
The Face of an Angel is released in the UK on 27th March 2015. The Trailer is below.