The filmmakers at the helm of Amanda Knox could have chosen many other titles more appropriate for their documentary. Who Killed Meredith Kercher or simply Meredith Kercher would have been more fitting. Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn attempt to get to the dark heart of the cause celebre that caused a global shockwave. But, they fall short in doing so.
The film, which explores the murder of a British exchange student in Italy some years ago, is an essentially flawed portrayal of a cause celebre and the psyche of those involved. It’s not that the title of the documentary is wholly inappropriate. Amanda Knox is, of course, one of the crucial elements of what the documentary explores. But she’s not the most important element involved or the element that needs to be illuminated the most. This is why the documentary fails at almost everything it appears to achieve.
The documentary is, from the outset, visually stunning. The filmmakers establish the small Italian town of Perugia well and how its makeup influenced the murder of Kercher. They demonstrate its quiet, almost secluded, yet passionately Mediterranean qualities as somewhat determining factors in the case that unfolded on its streets and in its apartments. Did the modest size of the town allow for more errors by the Italian police forces? Was it not prepared at all for such a crime? The filmmakers come close to answering these questions.
The “cast” of the documentary is a small one. The filmmakers did not exhaust opportunities to interview a large groups of people, and instead stick to the main players. Knox herself, her boyfriend of the time Raffaele Sollecito, lead detective Gulian Mignini and chief reporter in Perugia Nick Pisa, from the Daily Mail.
In often strange behaviour, journalist Nick Pisa seems to elicit glee like a tabloid Cheshire Cat – choosing salacious revelling over sympathy or empathy whenever discussing the murder of Kercher. The team of interviewees is never changed much. There is brief statements and reports by lab analysts in charge of re-examining DNA evidence from the scene of the crime, but it is a brief excursion.
One of interviewees that the film also devotes substantial screen time to is the lead detective previously in charge of the Kercher case. When introduced to the elderly, seemingly wise detective he professes an admiration for Sherlock Holmes and the fictional character’s envious abilities of detection. In these opening moments, Giuliano Mignini appears more fictional than real. His personality seems to come straight from a Dario Argento film. But, quickly, the viewer is to learn that this is not Tenebrae and instead, a horror of much worse dread.
Essentially, the documentary seems to make the same mistake that the mainstream press made during its reporting of the murder. They both assume that even with such an immense tragedy and with a murder of superlative brutality – the spotlight can only be shined on one woman. It is assumed that is acceptable for their respective readers and viewers to see that there is only just enough effort to illuminate one woman. Sadly, that woman illuminated is not the victim of the vicious crime that serves as the definite catalyst for the film in the first place, but the victim of a negligent judicial system.
Both are tragedies, but both are also equally worth the time spent analysing them. In Amanda Knox, we only get one version. The version of Knox. The unfortunate truth, at least in this case, seems to be that if two women are largely involved in a murder, there is a 50 percent chance of non-exposure for one of them.
To even begin to hypothesise on how, why, and by whom Kercher was murdered is to deal with the facts. Amanda Knox was acquitted by an Italian jury and allowed to return to Seattle. So we must assume she is innocent, even if the most armchair of detectives would suggest that not everything she knows has been revealed. If Amanda Knox did not kill, or take part in the killing, of the British student then who did? Of course, it is not the remit or the responsibility of the filmmakers to establish this but it should be their intention to provoke debate around it. They do not. They, again, offer us only a myopic view of the murder.
The documentary, with its short length, seems to promote brevity for the sake of digestibility. It does not reach the same comprehensive scour of a case like Netflix’s previous original documentary Making a Murderer did earlier this year. Even if the material in that documentary reached conjecture at times, it was nevertheless a sprawling take on its subject.
The level of insight that we are allowed about Amanda Knox is unprecedented. It is the first time that she has spoken at length of her role in the murder and what happened after. But a level of depth into that insight is not something that is reached by the end of the film. There are only a few instances where we hear the voice of the filmmakers; it would have been interesting to hear it even more. In Charles H. Ferguson’s seminal take on the 2007/2008 financial crisis, the filmmaker offers us a more direct input on his film while it never seeming like an unwanted polemic influence. Amanda Knox could have benefited more in this area.
Ultimately, it’s not to say that the documentary is not interesting and does not wholly disallow a discussion on the case. But it does nothing to truly inspire that discussion. I had a much more in-depth, thoughtful and balanced conversation with a friend regarding the case than the film ever instigated. The spotlight for women involved in any high-profile criminal case is a faint one and the documentary is not clear-sighted enough either to examine why this still happens, or to offer anything – any kind of report, thesis or story – to the contrary.
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