The murder trial, and preceding investigation, of American Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito who were charged, convicted and eventually acquitted of the 2007 murder of Knox’s Perugia, Italy roommate Meredith Kercher was relentlessly salacious, playing out in the press less as a dutiful march of fact gathering than splashy scoops, facts be damned. The media is represented on screen by Daily Mail journalist, so to speak, Nick Pisa who unremorsefully remarks that he had no time to fact check to meet deadlines to get scoops so he could conjure up juicy headlines. And because of the sensationalist nature of the murder’s coverage, Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s Netflix documentary “Amanda Knox” deliberately takes a different tack, straining all the sensationalism out, placing its series of talking heads in front of drab backdrops and opting for a flat aesthetic. The result is far more solemn than salacious.
Blackhurst and McGinn have said in interviews that they yearned to be objective, and for the most part they are, though it also quickly becomes clear, as the title implies, that their chief goal here to exonerate Amanda Knox rather than to explicitly deduce who killed Meredith a la Sarah Koenig’s Serial podcast. Kercher’s family apparently declined to be interviewed, and I don’t blame them, but with her being less than present the foremost victim here almost unintentionally comes to feel like an afterthought. The drifter, Rudy Guede, who was found guilty of the murder is someone that Pisa says no one covering the story was really interested in, a remark the documentary, oddly, takes as gospel, content to raise a Rudy as a subject very briefly and then forget about him.
No, as the title implies, “Amanda Knox” is all about Amanda. It lays out her entire ordeal from beginning to end and while it does not necessarily do a deep dive into why the stories of Knox and Sollecito kept changing, spurred, as they tell us, by pressure from the authorities, its explanation of the incredibly flimsy DNA evidence pretty much makes clear this case never really was one. All of this information, however, is not necessarily new, most of it already accounted for in the dozens of reports penned long before this movie, like the comprehensive work of Judy Bacharach for Vanity Fair, and re-assembled here in one place for everyone to see.
What is new, however, is the presence on camera of Giuliano Mignini, the Italian prosecutor who was most convinced of Knox and Sollecito’s guilt. It is genuinely stunning to see this wannabe Sherlock Holmes claim, on camera, out loud, that he prefers to stick to the facts even as he openly admits that much of his investigation seemed to be based on nothing more than absurdly theatrical intuition that comes across ripped from pages of detective novels, probably not unlike the ones he purports to read. Watching him toss out outlandish theories about who and what Amanda was really like based on her eyes, or some such, to is see a man seemingly carried away by a myth that he has cultivated entirely in his own mind of who he is.
Amanda, on the other hand, often comes across like someone yearning to get away from who she is – no, strike that! She comes across like someone yearning to get away from who everyone thinks she is. Her presence is Blackhurst and McGinn’s biggest get for the documentary and yet when it ends we still feel as if we have no exact impression of her, perhaps because after years of being relentlessly scrutinized she just wants to maintain privacy. And if so, God bless her. She is interviewed throughout this ninety minute film while sitting in front of the same drab backdrop as everyone else, its drabness harmonizing with her drained face as she re-lives her eight year nightmare again, constantly looking at us and then looking away, as if searching search for what to say, like all these years after the fact she still can’t find the right words to express how she feels, even if a few of the lines she does eventually utter sound precise and rehearsed because I assume she has had a long time to think of them.
Among the most jarring, poignant moments of the film then becomes contrasting images of this Amanda Knox with the younger Amanda Knox, one seen through snippets of old video, like Amanda on the verge of moving to Perugia, Italy so long ago and being asked by the friend filming if she’s excited. “Fucking yeeeeah, biiiiiitch!” Amanda shouts. If that might rub some people the wrong way, I found it rather endearing. I doubt that’s who she really was either. She appears more like a twenty year old doing as twenty years old do. Still, it was one of the moments where her guard isn’t up, and you realize after all she’s been through that her guard will never be down again.