Michael Winterbottom turns his ever-restless camera on to the messy business of the Amanda Knox trial with this indulgent, trippy yet compellingly trashy film-maker fantasy.
Face of an Angel stars Kate Beckinsale as a journalist covering the trial of a murder – for the sake of this fictionalised account, the case has been moved to Siena instead of Perugia where poor Meredith Kercher, a British student, was murdered in 2007.
Winterbottom’s film – he’s dealt with true life crime before in A Mighty Heart – concentrates on the various people trying to get to the truth, focusing on the cynical media pack and, in particular, a tortured documentary film maker commissioned to make a film about it all (played by German star Daniel Bruhl).
As Bruhl becomes increasingly drawn in to the gothic mediaeval fantasma of the city, he goes on his own Dante-esque journey to inner hell, helped by large quantities of drugs and a pretty gap-year student, played by Cara Delevingne on a sparklingly naturalistic movie debut.
Only Winterbottom could turn the horrid murder of a young woman into the torrid creative travails of a self-obsessed film maker. And only Winterbottom could get away with it, making it almost camply exploitative in a quasi-intellectual way.
As Bruhl reels through the ancient Italian streets having meta-epiphanies from too much coke and marijuana, I half-expected him to bump into Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon doing Michael Caine impressions falling out of one of the restaurants (Winterbottom directed them in their Italian food odyssey The Trip).
“Only through fiction can you arrive at the truth,” intones someone here and the film is certainly good on the click-bait nature of what happened during this interminable real-life case, where justice seemed easily perverted at every turn, led my media speculation and an unhealthy obsession with lurid sex fantasies as well as a running popularity contest on the accused.
Winterbottom rightly, perhaps lazily, gives up getting to the truth of the real case for a languorous and lurid fantasy of his own, in which the protagonist film maker questions his own loyalties, perceptions and creativity via a series of big nights out and sexual encounters. It’s a dangerous business this directing lark, but someone’s gotta do it.