In the nine years since she was first accused of and jailed for murder — then exculpated, only to be retried and found guilty again, and finally absolved — Amanda Knox has learned a thing or two about performance. “Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing…,” the 21st century’s most infamous study-abroad student, now 29, says, directly addressing the camera, at the beginning of Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s by-the-numbers documentary, Amanda Knox. She pauses, then completes her sentence with this coup de théâtre: “…or I’m you.”
The semi-provocative statement, so confidently delivered (and seemingly rehearsed), reminds viewers that any one of us could be, as she was, imprisoned and ensnared in judicial incompetence for nearly a decade, despite our innocence. But in the days and weeks following November 2, 2007 — when Seattle native Knox, then twenty, and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito (another of the film’s interlocutors) were arrested for the slaying of Meredith Kercher, Knox’s roommate in Perugia, Italy — the American “was extremely unconvincing in the role of the wrongfully accused,” as Nathaniel Rich noted in his detail-dense “The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox” for Rolling Stone in 2011.
As was widely reported at the time, and is rehashed, to diminishing effect, in Blackhurst and McGinn’s documentary, Knox did yoga stretches during one lengthy interrogation at a police station and was filmed kissing Sollecito (who had been her swain for one week by the time of the murder) outside the cottage she shared with Kercher while the ispettori were inside collecting — or more accurately, bungling — DNA evidence.
Her behavior was considered especially repellent and suspect by the Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and was embellished and grossly distorted by tabloid reporters such as Nick Pisa, then working for the U.K.’s jaundice-yellow rag the Daily Mail. Both men, overweening gasbags, are also featured in current-day interviews in Amanda Knox, demonstrating, again and again, what those who have only the vaguest knowledge of the case already know: that, largely owing to their hubris, sexism, and sclerotic “values” (and those of many others involved in the proceedings), Knox was damned in the court of public opinion.
Like too many recent documentaries, Blackhurst and McGinn’s is filled with missed opportunities. Why not spend more time with the fantastically named, attired, and indignant Valter Biscotti, the lawyer for Rudy Guede, the man eventually convicted of killing Kercher? Or ask Knox more about what her life was like at Capanne penitentiary? (A quick flash of the cover sheet of the journal she kept there, with MY PRISON DIARY scrawled in the bubble-letter writing of a child, is almost as jarring as some of the crime scene photos.) The film ends as it began, with Knox making a florid remark and then gazing intensely into the camera. Like the intro, the outro is flagrant stagecraft, but still more rewarding to parse than what’s in between.
Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn
Opens September 30, in theaters and on Netflix