Take a Drink: during each weird hallucination.
Do a Shot: for each connection to the Amanda Knox case.
Take a Drink: anytime Thomas drinks or smokes.
Do a Shot: for each red herring.
Take a Drink: whenever the movie gets meta.
By: Matt Conway (Three Beers) –
Daniel Bruhl was one of those actors who was touted as one of the industry’s up and coming stars. After years of being a solid character actor in respectable films, Bruhl started being cast as the leading man in big, Oscar-caliber films. 2013 was supposed to be the year, with both Rush and The Fifth Estate promising to get him much-coveted awards attention, while also establishing him as a rising star.
However, that didn’t seem to work out. Rush was a hit with the critics, but the film received very little awards attention. The Fifth Estate was even worse, as it was both a serious critical and financial misfire (and now known as one of the biggest award season failures). With this being the case, Bruhl has received few little key roles since then. His latest starring vehicle, The Face of an Angel, shows Bruhl’s remarkable talent in an intelligent, yet flawed thriller.
The Face of An Angel follows Thomas, a documentary filmmaker who comes to investigate the fallout of a murder of a student. He gets more than he asked for, though, as he begins to unravel a story that has more to it than he ever expected.
The Face of an Angel, from an aesthetics prospective, is absolutely gorgeous. Cinematographer Hubert Taczanowski shoots the film beautifully across its European landscapes, from crowded city streets to haunting nighttime locales. The score by Harry Escott accompanies the visuals nicely, getting across the proper beats for the film without ever feeling overbearing.
What makes the film quite engaging throughout is its sense of mood. Acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom has shown a great deal of versatility throughout his career, from comedies like The Trip to dramas like A Mighty Heart. Here, Winterbottom shows his talents off quite well. From the film’s haunting hallucinations to the still imagery, there’s always a sense of mystery in the air.
Bruhl is asked to carry much of the film on his shoulders, and he’s very much up to the task. He is truly a gifted actor, able to have such presence on screen while still staying grounded in his character. As Thomas, Bruhl is playing sort of a basic character type (a distant, recently divorced man immersing himself into this mysterious case). However, Bruhl is able to add a lot to the character, building layers of doubt, emptiness, and a desire for the truth into Thomas.
Supporting Bruhl is a relatively solid supporting cast. Kate Beckinsale is an actress whose work I have never been that much of a fan of, starring in mostly schlock-type films. Here, however, she is quite good as one of the many reporters Thomas meets. Cara Delevingne is being cast in quite a few big films these days, and you can see why here. She illuminates the screen as Melanie, a local who Thomas begins to build a relationship with.
Where The Face of an Angel shines is in its script, which plays around with a lot of deeper ideas. Screenwriter Paul Viragh does a great job commenting on society’s obsession with murder cases, especially focusing on the killer rather than the victim. Scenes with dozens of reporters cynically discussing what angle to take with the story, rather than discussing the truth of the matter, felt (sadly) very genuine. Viragh’s script thankfully does not go over the top with the concept, put playfully puts in this kind of commentary throughout.
Viragh’s script also tackles some fairly emotionally profound ideas. As Thomas begins to discover more and more about the case, he decides he wants to make a film that is a celebration of life rather than focused on death. The film itself takes a similar angle in its third act, which becomes (surprisingly) very emotionally effective. The way the film constantly evolves is also quite impressive, a true testament to Winterbottom’s talent.
The Face of an Angel is far from perfect, however. One of the qualities that bothered me throughout was the film’s somewhat meta approach. Scenes with Thomas discussing the film with his producers felt far too obvious, essentially stating what the audience had already realized earlier. The need for Hollywood films to have to spell out their themes can be quite frustrating at times.
Pacing also turns out to be an issue throughout, as the film’s meandering approach can become tiresome. It never got to the point at which I didn’t care about what was going on, but the way the film runs in circles at points can become tedious to watch. Even at a relatively slight 100 minute running time, the film still often feels overlong.
Perhaps the biggest issue, however, is that the film has way too much going on. I admire Viragh’s ambition and intellect, but it seems like the crowd of ideas almost becomes too burdensome for the film to handle at points. It becomes difficult for his script to manage these concepts in a balanced manner, while also telling an engaging story.
The Face of an Angel is a messy hodgepodge of ideas, but a visually exciting and profound one in spite of that. It’s a pleasure to see films these days still aiming for the stars, even though the film may not quite grasp some of its high concept ideas. Still very much worth a watch.