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amanda knox (rod blackhurst and brian mcginn, 2016)

It played the Toronto International Film Festival, but was released on Netflix. Does that mean it’s eligible for an Oscar, an Emmy, or both? It’s not good enough for either, to be honest, but it sits well among the current fascination people seem to have for true crime tales. Amanda Knox was the American who spent four years in an Italian prison after being convicted of murdering her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox has been in and out of the headlines since 2007, so there’s a readymade audience for her story.

Blackhurst and McGinn take a fairly straightforward, chronological approach, using archival footage, interspersed with interviews of the primary characters, to tell the story. This gives the documentary a feeling of legitimacy ... as with so many well-made popular documentaries, it’s hard to figure what is being left out. The point of view in the film is, perhaps inevitably, that of Knox (she’s the title character for a reason). Her then-boyfriend and co-defendant, Italian Raffaele Sollecito, is equally victimized, but in the movie, he seems relevant mostly as he relates to Amanda. Both Knox and Sollecito come across very well in their interviews, although again, Knox is featured more often, because she’s American, because her emotional reactions are powered by a strong sense of injustice.

Two other characters get significant screen time. Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini calmly details his approach to the case, and he sounds quite reasonable throughout, unless you pay attention to some of his “logic”. At one point, noting the murder victim had been found naked but covered by a blanket, he proclaims the murder was committed by a woman, because only a woman would cover up the body. In fairness, there isn’t a lot about Mignini that differs from other cases where the prosecution travels down the wrong path. Once Knox is a suspect, Mignini interprets all subsequent evidence as proof of her guilt. Sollecito gets off a bit lightly under this scenario, as it is suggested Knox used her feminine wiles to get Sollecito and a third suspect (Rudy Guede, who it is strongly argued was the actual murderer) to rape Kercher while Knox did the murder.

In addition to the two defendants and Mignini, English journalist Nick Pisa appears several times in interviews. Pisa comes off the worst of everyone. Mignini is stubborn, he can’t see how he’s gone astray, but his commitment is to justice, even if in this case, he’s misguided. But Pisa is solely interested in the tabloid angles. He shows little interest in Kercher ... for that matter, he shows little interest in Sollecito. He loves Amanda Knox because she is the perfect tabloid subject. And, speaking in his defense regarding his questionable journalistic ethics, he gives one of the more disturbing speeches in the film:

What are we supposed to do? We are journalists and we are reporting what we are being told. It's not as if I can say “Hold on a minute, I just want to double check that myself in some other way, who knows how, and I'll let my rival get in there first before me, and then, hey, I've lost a scoop.” It doesn't work like that, not in the news game.

This film is the first with Knox's participation (she did write a memoir), and it is powerful that she tells her own story. You come away convinced that she suffered for being a pretty American who liked sex. But the methods used by Blackhurst and McGinn are designed to lead us to specific conclusions. It’s not that those conclusions are wrong, but as viewers we need to be vigilant against the misuse of the tools of the documentarian. 8/10.

"There’s no trace of me in the room where Meredith was murdered…But you’re trying to find the answer in my eyes when the answer is right over there. You’re looking at me, why? These are my eyes, they’re not objective evidence." -- Amanda Knox

 

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