I never considered myself a true crime fan. But in late 2014, I overheard my wife and mother-in-law talking about some podcast or other called Serial. I gave it a try and was forever changed. I was less fascinated with the crime aspect and more with trying to solve it. Then we discovered Making a Murderer and The Staircase, and I was equally fascinated by the legal process. Netflix’s new documentary Amanda Knox is very much in the same vein as these, but its scope is limited by its 90 minute runtime.
What that 90 minutes contains, however, is impressive. It has access to almost everyone involved: Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, the couple falsely accused and convicted; Giuliano Mignini, local Italian prosecutor; Nick Pisa, a dirtbag reporter who gives muckraking a bad name; and a handful of DNA and crime scene analysts. Arguably the only talking heads missing are Patrick Lumumba and Rudy Guede – both accused but exonerated and convicted, respectively (we do get to hear from Guede’s lawyer) – and victim Meredith Kircher’s family. In addition to the major participants, we also see crime scene photos and video, read Knox’s and Sollecito’s confessions, browse Pisa’s headlines and Knox’s MySpace page, and hear wiretaps of Knox and Guede.
Amanda Knox lays all of this information out clearly and efficiently: here are the characters, here is what each of them did and when, and here is the evidence that supports or contradicts their statements. Unlike Serial or Making a Murderer, it quickly becomes clear that the only “evidence” against them is coerced and quickly retracted confessions. But that doesn’t stop Knox and Sollecito from being convicted, released on appeal, convicted in absentia, and finally exonerated over a seven year period. It’s very satisfying to watch.
But it does feel a bit superficial. To get through all of this in 90 minutes, it moves at a breakneck pace and doesn’t really linger on a lot of the more interesting aspects of the case. Why does Knox describe herself as a “strange person,” and how much did her strange MySpace page and behavior after the murder influence the case? Why did she act the way she did? Much like Damien Echols in Paradise Lost, at times it feels like Knox has no idea how her actions looked to other people. And there are many more questions that come up, the biggest of which is clearly why Kircher’s family still think Knox is guilty. It’s too bad that with all the access the filmmakers had, they weren’t able to explore these themes even a little.
A minor technical quibble is that Mignini is summarized rather than translated. The meaning is the same, but a lot of nuance is lost. While his ambition and arrogance (at one point he likens himself to Sherlock Holmes as both can interpret insignificant evidence and deduce the guilty party) shine through, he does sound a little less absolute in Italian.
I’m not sure Amanda Knox is technically a Shocktober film (my wife, for one, was glad it was not like The Witch), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary. Knox herself sums this up: this could happen to you the same way it happened to me. Not exactly a demonic goat, but still scary.