Like the floundering filmmaker at its center, “The Face of an Angel” never seems sure of what story it wants to tell. The result, from prolific director Michael Winterbottom (“A Mighty Heart,” “The Trip”) and writer Paul Viragh, proves a potentially intriguing but uninvolving look at moviemaking, journalism, the allure of high-profile crimes and more. And sometimes less.
The movie is a circuitous, meta-fictional take on Barbie Latza Nadeau’s book “Angel Face: Sex, Murder and the Inside Story of Amanda Knox,” which examined the case of the college student convicted in the 2007 murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. (In 2011, Knox and accused co-conspirator Raffaele Sollecito were found not guilty.)
Viragh’s screenplay places glum, haunted film director Thomas Lang (Daniel Bruhl) in Siena, Italy (the Kercher killing occurred in Perugia), to meet with Nadeau proxy Simone Ford (Kate Beckinsale), research the death of a young student named Elizabeth Pryce (Sai Bennett) and witness the media circus surrounding the trial of her accused killer, Jessica Fuller (Genevieve Gaunt).
But the longer Lang spends in Siena, where he’s diverted by sex, drugs, a friendship with pretty university student Melanie (Cara Delevingne) and his own emotional unraveling, the less of a handle he has on the script he’s been hired to write and direct about Pryce’s murder.
Meanwhile, the once-successful director is also busy dealing with his ex-wife (Rosie Fellner), Skyping with his young daughter (Ava Acres) and rankling the antsy London film execs funding his escapade.
When Dante’s “Divine Comedy” starts to inform Lang’s brainstorming process — that is, for writing what’s supposed to be a true-crime drama — it’s clear the guy’s gone off the rails. As has this movie.
By the film’s elusive third act, though, it’s truly hard to discern the real point of this ambitious but muddled exercise.
“The Face of an Angel.”
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. In English and Italian with subtitles.
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles.