For a viewer who chose to avoid the salacious, never-ending TV and tabloid coverage of its namesake, Amanda Knox makes for succinct, involving viewing — a true-crime doc that acknowledges the lingering debates over its subject’s guilt while prompting one to ask: Why did anyone ever believe this outrageous stuff in the first place, much less cling to it for years? Offering vintage footage that reportedly has never been seen, but drawing most of its value from good new interviews with the drama’s central players, Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst’s doc should do well for distributor Netflix.
In a prelude featuring a now-released Knox, who’s trying to live a normal life in Seattle, the young woman presents a binary choice for those looking at the 2007 murder for which she was twice convicted and twice exonerated in Italy. There’s no in between, she says: “Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing, or I am you” — an innocent victim of circumstance who did nothing wrong but be in the way of those rushing to solve a high-profile case.
A cogent exploration of a case the media seemingly spent years getting wrong.
Representing the Italian authorities here is Giuliano Mignini, who was the lead investigator when Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, was killed. Speaking to the filmmakers now, his reasons for suspecting Knox committed the crime look incredibly shaky. The killer must have been a woman because a man wouldn’t have covered the victim’s body with a blanket; it must have been Knox because, as she and her boyfriend waited outside the crime scene, their expressions of affection were “inappropriate.”
As they do with Mignini and the prosecution, the filmmakers let a single speaker represent the entirety of the media’s coverage of the investigation. We get reporter Nick Pisa, who happily leapt at every sexual innuendo investigators tossed his way. He chuckles here at the appeal of a “girl-on-girl crime,” but never really justifies the use of a few details about Knox’s sex life to concoct outlandish theories about a sex game in which she made two men murder a woman for her pleasure.
Still, both men are initially shown as credible witnesses, and those who don’t know the story will be moved by apparent signs that Knox was involved in the killing. Pressed hard by interrogators, she gave suspicious testimony she later recanted; in a search at the home of her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, where she claimed to have slept the night Kercher was killed, police found a kitchen knife they said carried the victim’s DNA. It doesn’t take too long for the movie to challenge these items persuasively, though, showing an outside review of the forensic work that explains how the “chaos” at the crime scene and in laboratories likely contaminated the physical evidence.
If much of the prosecution of this case seemed to originate from Mignini’s gut feelings, any viewers fresh to the story surely will be more inclined to trust their own guts: Interviewing Knox and Sollecito separately, the directors find kids who were in the throes of an exciting but hardly lurid new romance when Kercher was killed, kids who weren’t nearly equipped to cope with the pressure investigators put on them. The film follows one initial suspect who was released because of an alibi, and his empty slot in the media’s much-hyped sex-murder-party yarn is filled by Rudy Guede, the only person for whom convincing physical evidence remains.
McGinn and Blackhurst follow the series of outrageous reversals through which Knox and Sollecito eventually regained their freedom, if not their peaceful lives. Knox was stalked by paparazzi and forced to defend herself anew in humiliating TV interviews. As for her persecutors, who thrived for months if not years on insinuations of her guilt, Pisa says with a straight face: “I think, at the end of the day, you have to point the finger at the police, don’t you?”
Production companies: Netflix, Plus Pictures
Directors: Brian McGinn, Rod Blackhurst
Screenwriters: Matthew Hamachek, Brian McGinn
Producers: Mette Heide, Stephen Robert Morse
Executive producers: Adam Del Deo, Ben Cotner, Lisa Nishimura
Director of photography: Rod Blackhurst
Editor: Matthew Hamachek
Composers: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs)
Rated TV-MA, 92 minutes