Directors: Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn
“A murder always gets people going; a bit of intrigue, a bit of mystery. A whodunit.”
Nick Pisa, journalist, looks at you directly when he says this, with his impeccable hair, pampered face and dazzling grin.
But something isn’t right. He’s talking about murder with the tone of a used-car salesman. And just as the discomfort begins to set in, he continues, visibly soaking in the spotlight, “It was a particularly gruesome murder; throat slit, semi naked, blood everywhere.”
He takes a breath, savouring the moment. “What more could you want?”
Unsurprisingly, Nick Pisa doesn’t come across too well in Amanda Knox, the new true-crime documentary from Netflix, who seem to have cornered that market with this and the excellent Making a Murderer.
You might remember the case. It was one of those flavor-of-the-week scandals that went on for way longer than anyone had anticipated. And even if Nick Pisa’s very helpful plot summary didn’t jog your memory, chances are, you, like me, at least remember the name: Amanda Knox. And the face, inescapably plastered on tabloids and primetime news; pretty, blonde... Innocent?
In 2007, Knox and her boyfriend of 5 days, Raffaele Sollecito, were arrested for the (rather gruesome) murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher. She was 20 at the time, living as an exchange student in the rustic Italian town of Perugia.
What followed was a remarkable murder mystery spanning 8 years (the latest development happened only months ago), with twists and turns, red herrings and conspiracies that would make James Ellroy and the ghost of Agatha Christie wish they’d thought it up.
It’s no coincidence then, that while it is a documentary, Amanda Knox is put together like a sleek, David Fincher movie (like Se7en or something) - complete with a grizzled, I’m-too-old-for-this-s#!t lead investigator who likes ‘detective movies’, and can be found, guilt-ridden, in cathedrals, often with a forgotten pipe dangling his mouth.
And this film brings them all back, back to the event that would forever change their lives. It’s somewhat of a major coup: Knox, the boyfriend, the detective, the lawyer, and the journalist.
Look, we’re all lucky to be living in an age when the wrongful conviction documentary has become a genre unto itself.
But Amanda Knox, the film, is different. Like its subject, it is haunted by an unshakable sense of unease. Moments that are meant to be joyous feel staged, deliberately, as if everyone is hiding something or pretending. There is joy on their faces, but never in their eyes.
Knox herself is an unpredictably all-over-the-place subject. Innocent or not, it’d take an especially good-natured person to trust the words coming out of her mouth. But the ambiguity of this case isn’t what makes this film any different from the other, mostly better ones about wrongful convictions. A large part of that is because Knox never comes across like she’s been wrongfully accused. She might have been innocent – indeed, the law has acquitted her, twice – but unlike Steven Avery in Making a Murderer or The West Memphis Three of the Paradise Lost films, you never root for her.
In fact, worryingly, the person she most resembles is Joyce McKinney, the deranged beauty queen who became a tabloid sensation in the late ‘70s for kidnapping and raping a Mormon missionary. She was later documented in a great film by Errol Morris called, appropriately, Tabloid. This is praise, by the way.
And speaking of tabloids… Amanda Knox’s case became what it became mostly because of ‘journalists’ like Nick Pisa, who towards the end of the film essentially confesses that he isn’t one for letting the truth get in the way of a good story. That, and the fact that it happened in 2007, possibly the exact year in which the Internet hit critical mass.
This film is both a critique of mass produced news and a facilitator of it. It’s also not surprising that it counts Mette Heide as one of its producers, who also had a hand in India’s Daughter, which, you’d remember, is that controversial documentary on the Delhi rape case.
But unlike India’s Daughter, Amanda Knox makes no attempt at pointing fingers (or solving this case). The only way to sum it up is in Knox’s opening words: “There are those who believe in my innocence. There are those who believe in my guilt. There is no in-between.”
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The author tweets @NaaharRohan