True crime has always held sway over scandal-hungry audiences, but a recent uptick in splashy stories packaged for mass consumption — from “Serial” to “Making a Murderer” to the double whammy of O.J. Simpson-centric titles that dominated broadcast television over the summer — have made it clear that there’s more of an appetite for this sort of entertainment than ever before. Enter “Amanda Knox,” Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s well-made and inherently interesting examination of the eponymous accused killer and the heinous murder the introduced her on the global stage.
Though Blackhurst and McGinn’s 92-minute documentary is snappily put together, it suffers mightily from the limitations of its feature length. More than anything, “Amanda Knox” makes the case for a larger look at the story it stuffs into a too-short runtime.
The Knox case — or, more appropriately and perhaps more respectfully, the Meredith Kercher case — has long dominated the news cycle, bolstered by splashy details that seemed readymade for the tabloid cycle. The film often eschews speculation, more admirably interested in focusing on facts (or, at least the facts as people tell them), and opens with an unsettling but plain-faced look at the room where Kercher’s body was found in 2007. Pools of blood dot the floor, and Kercher’s foot peeks out from underneath a hastily tossed blanket.
“Amanda Knox” mostly follows a linear timeline, all the better to digest and divulge increasingly upsetting details. The doc features an impressive array of talking head action — including both Knox and her ex-boyfriend and eventual co-defendent Raffaele Sollecito, journalist Nick Pisa and prosector Giuliano Mignini — though there are significant gaps in its participants, and both Kercher’s family and the other roommates who lived in the flat that Kercher was murdered in are glaringly missing. (Late in the film, an unrelated interview with Kercher’s mother is shown, a strange choice that only further reminds viewers of what is lacking.)
The running theme of the Amanda Knox story has long been “who behaves this way?” — Knox’s behavior following Kercher’s death, most notably her bizarre, video-captured make-out session with Sollecito, has long enthralled people and was often portrayed of being indicative of her deficient emotions and wild sexual appetite — and it’s a question that’s repeatedly asked during the documentary.
While Knox is undoubtedly the star of the film, and she’s also one of the few people who comes off not looking absolutely bonkers. Her behavior, once seen as “strange,” now seems more understandable than ever. From the story-hungry Pisa to the Sherlock Holmes-addicted Mignini, “Amanda Knox” shines unflattering lights on nearly everyone but Knox (even a phone call with one of Knox’s college friends makes the pal look like the least empathetic person on the planet), who looks alternately grateful to tell her side of the story and absolutely sick that this is her legacy.
Despite excellent access to Knox especially, “Amanda Knox” offers up little new information, an element of the doc that’s made all the more noticeable by the occasionally amusing (but mostly unsettling) focus on the media’s part in the case. Pisa, who by the film’s end as totally tarnished his professional reputation simply by talking about his so-called journalistic process (when an end card came up that revealed he now works for well-known tabloid The Sun, a number of audience members cheered), frequently attempts to illuminate the way the case was shaped by the media. Consequently, the film is splashed with headlines and cover stories that only serve to drive home the point just how much of this case has already been covered.
With so much ground to cover in such a slim package — the film is up to date with current events, so it’s tasked with covering nearly a decade — “Amanda Knox” skates over massive stretches of time with startlingly regularity. Wondering about the details of Knox and Sollecito’s first trial? Good luck, and enjoy about three minutes of movie time. Eager to hear more of the more jaw-dropping tidbits from their acquittal? Read Knox’s book. Want to know more about one-time suspect Diya Patrick Lumumba? You’ll get more out of a Wikipedia page. Curious about the one person still in jail for the crime, Rudy Guede? The film at least provides some time with his lawyer, but even he is more concerned with defending his work rather than his client. Kercher’s family? Forget it. Legal wrangling? Not here. Knox’s life today? Save for a couple of shots in the film’s beginning and end, you’ll never know.
Eventually, the missing pieces — and the Amanda Knox case is undoubtedly one of missing pieces — outshine the compelling elements the doc does provide (again, Amanda Knox! as primary talking head!), leaving audiences only wanting more. As a 92-minute commercial for a deeper look at the case, “Amanda Knox” is unquestionably intriguing; as a standalone offering, it makes one hell of an airtight case for something bigger and better.
“Amanda Knox” had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is set to premiere on Netflix on September 30.