Thursday 8 December 2016

On demand: "Amanda Knox"

If the movies have so far taught us anything about Amanda Knox, it's that she exists as a blank space for male directors to riff on and doodle over - exhibit A being 2014's Face of an Angel, the negligible Michael Winterbottom curio (very) loosely based on the events that took place in a picturesque corner of Perugia in the summer of 2007. Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn's documentary Amanda Knox - a simultaneous release in cinemas and on Netflix, where it presumably hopes to snag the Making a Murderer fanbase - immediately trumps the Winterbottom experiment by putting Ms. Knox herself centre frame, and by inviting her to tell a story that may have been heard out by the trial and appeal courts, but was obscured from the general public by the media storm of that particular late Noughties moment.

Casually dressed, and appearing greatly more composed than she was ever allowed to be in the heat of that moment, Knox testifies more or less uninterrupted to camera, and the result is one of those hands-off documentaries from which the viewer will take away whatever he or she chooses to hear. The framing is enough to suggest that Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were - in true movie fashion - simply hapless kids in the wrong spot at the wrong time (namely the holiday villa in which their associate Meredith Kercher was murdered by persons unknown); that, in this quiet backwater, they then became prey for the local and international media. The film presents us with a ready-made villain in Nick Pisa, the British freelance reporter attached to the Daily Mail, who in interview emits throaty cackles about this case's more salacious angles ("It was a girl-on-girl crime!"), and how his coverage enabled him to forge a career, albeit with the Daily Mail: the insinuation is that bad reporting, coupled to bad investigation, led ultimately to bad justice.

Of course, it is possible that Pisa might be a little less of a heel off-camera, and that Knox is a touch less innocent than she's set up to be here, but then this is another of the recent true-crime rehashes that regards its interviewees less as flawed, flesh-and-blood human beings than characters in a twisty courtroom saga - the cynical hack, the damsel-in-distress, the dogged prosecutor - and edits accordingly. I'm growing increasingly suspicious of films and shows that attempt to convert real-life cases - cases in which real people actually died - into the business of show, razzle-dazzle experiences that by their very form claim to present us with all the answers in one go, with none of the knotty artistry (or ambiguity) of, say, Errol Morris's genre-defining The Thin Blue Line.  

Making a Murderer, over its ten episodes, allowed itself time to pick over the minutiae of the Theresa Halbach case - possibly too much time, given its tendency to get bogged down in jurisdictional pedantry. By contrast, this 91-minute single-sit keeps flagging up information and evidence it never follows through on, as you hope a more thorough investigation or trial would. We get nothing of Knox's backstory, while the movements of Rudy Guede, the Ivorian who was in the villa with Kercher at the time of her murder, receive no more consideration than the legal system itself afforded: Blackhurst and McGinn are mirroring the investigation's flaws rather than correcting them in any useful way. (Following Knox's acquittal, Guede's story - that of the one man currently serving prison time in connection with this crime - now feels like the lede, but then his is not a name or face that sells papers or docs.)

Seeing the archive footage presented as it is here also made me wonder why the Italian public - shown booing the appeal court's decision to overturn the initial guilty verdict - were quite so invested in seeing an American go down for the killing of an Englishwoman. Was it simple anti-Americanism? Or that they didn't want to believe that this heinous crime may have been committed by one of their own? Again, Blackhurst and McGinn press no further, so what we're left with is a Cliffs Notes overview of this case, bringing a not uncommendable degree of sobriety to bear on what originally played out as an altogether hotheaded series of events. Just don't come looking for answers, or a definitive verdict: where a ten-part series might have brought Meredith Kercher some measure of justice, this hour-and-a-half rehash cannot.

Amanda Knox is now streaming on Netflix.  

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