One of Britain's most accomplished filmmakers, Michael Winterbottom impresses not only with the depth of his work with such offerings as Jude and A Mighty Heart, but also its breadth.
There doesn't seem to be a genre or theme he hasn't assayed in his 20-year career. With Trishna (2011), he used Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles to explore power structures in India; he's done documentary work (The Road to Guantanamo), sci-fi (Code 46), even sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll (9 Songs, The Look of Love).
Winterbottom's films never bore. They do sometimes frustrate, provoke - even anger.
That's the case with his entry in the true-story genre, The Face of an Angel, a fictionalized adaptation of journalist Barbie Latza Nadeau's Angel Face, detailing the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Italy and the prosecution of three people for her death, including photogenic American housemate Amanda Knox.
Wrongly classed as a crime thriller, The Face of an Angel is, in Winterbottom's words, a meta-fiction: It's not about the crime, the police investigation, or the trial. It's about the way those events were covered by the media.
It's a story about how storytelling filters and alters life.
Complex, brilliantly-structured, and featuring outstanding performances by a surprisingly large cast, The Face of an Angel stars Daniel Brühl (Rush, A Most Wanted Man) as Thomas, a successful indie filmmaker who is engaged to make a fictionalized film about an infamous murder trial in Siena, Italy: A beautiful American student named Jessica Fuller (Genevieve Gaunt) has been accused of killing her roommate, British student Elizabeth Pryce (Sai Bennett).
Kate Beckinsale plays Simone Ford, whose book Thomas is to adapt for his screenplay. In other words, the film is an ouroboros: a snake eating its own tale.
Self-reflexive to a fault - and I do fault it - The Face of an Angel spends far too much time and energy exploring Thomas' wounded psyche, his well-publicized breakup with a Hollywood star, and his romance with Simone. He tortures himself endlessly on how to tell a story that doesn't sensationalize the crime or make a celebrity out of the alleged killer.
There's a great deal of intelligent material here. Winterbottom mounts a harsh attack on our fascination with killers and our tendency to forget the victim. Yet it's overlaid with so much navel-gazing, it's hard to take.