Lifetime’s movie about Amanda Knox, the American exchange student who was convicted of murder in Italy after being vilified by the media, has been controversial since it was greenlit. Knox’s parents feared that it would jeopardize Knox’s appeal, which is currently under consideration by the Italian courts. Hayden Panettiere, who plays Amanda, defended both the project and her decision to play the role.
After watching “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy” in its inaugural airing Monday night, the verdict is in: it is guilty of being boring. It takes a special talent to make a story that involves a young woman accused of masterminding a twisted sexual encounter that led to another young woman’s brutal death dull.
Lifetime’s docudramas adhere to a formula. There are always the police investigation scenes that are a poor man’s “Law and Order.” There is the soccer mom, boldly fighting to save her child. There is the pretty young woman that finds herself the victim of circumstances that are outside of her control. Shoehorning what is a genuinely fascinating, horrifying story into this boilerplate formula does it a disservice.
The film does not take a stance on whether Knox is guilty. But it presents her as cold, callous and self-absorbed. No wonder her family did not want the film to air. It is possible to be both unsympathetic and innocent. That may well be what doomed Knox. Panettiere fails to build a cohesive character. Sometimes she seems like a naif who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others, she seems like bitchy party girl. A stronger performance would have shown why Knox had two seemingly contradictory aspects to her personality.
The movie could have been a crackling did-she-or-didn’t-she thriller. Instead it presents a series of scenes from Amanda’s life without putting them into any sort of context. The film begins with Knox and her nerdy boyfriend Raffaele (Paolo Romio) seemingly in the wrong place at the wrong time when the police stop by to drop off the murder victim’s missing cellphone and stumble across a gruesome murder scene. Amanda and Raffaele’s behavior seems off from the beginning; she claims that she noticed the door was unlocked and saw blood in the bathroom, but Amanda took a shower rather than phoning the police.
The story unfolds in perfunctory flashbacks. Amanda says goodbye to her parents before departing for Italy. Once there, she only seems interested in drinking, drugs and boys. She falls in love with Raffaele at first sight for no apparent reason, other than his physical similarity to Harry Potter. Amanda’s infamous bizarre behavior: making out with her boyfriend while waiting to be questioned at the police station, seeming not to care that her flatmate was dead, doing cartwheels in the police station, was shown but never explained. Equally unexplained was why the police speak English in scenes where Knox is not present. Apparently, Lifetime does not think its audience is capable of reading subtitles. The scene every viewer was both anticipating and dreading, the actual murder, was apparently cut from the film at the last minute due to complaints from both the Knox family and the family of the victim.
The way that the Italian legal system and the press made it impossible for Knox to get a fair trial was equally underdeveloped. There was no explanation for whether it was naivete or Italian laws that led her to her repeated interrogations without the presence of an attorney. Some of the abuses presented were shocking. She was threatened and hit during a 13 hour interrogation, at the end of which she falsely accused her boss, who sent her a text message the evening of the murder, of being the killer. Worst, Knox was told she was HIV positive and needed to provide a list of all of her sexual partners, a list which was then leaked to the media. Is this legal in Italy? The movie does not bother to explain. When forensic evidence provided proof that a man who was not an initial suspect was the killer, the prosecutor concocted a scenario in which Amanda pressured him and Rafaeli to kill Meredith despite an utter lack of evidence. However, his motive was never made clear. Was he trying to save face, or did he truly believe that Knox was guilty?
The trial scenes were hasty, an unsurprising choice since everyone watching knew she was going to be found guilty. Amanda was portrayed as delusional, telling her sister about how the boyfriend who betrayed her would visit her in Seattle. The most surprising information came in the freeze frame before the closing credits. Knox’s parents were ordered to stand trial for libel just last week for repeating Amanda’s allegations that she was abused by the police and could face prison time if convicted.
Immediately following the film was an hour long documentary about the case that did a far better job of explaining what happened, how the media used Knox’s YouTube videos and social networking pages to make standard college student behavior look diabolical and why the forensic evidence in the case was tainted. The documentary also was a primer on the Italian justice system, in which judges also sit on the jury and are allowed to question witnesses. It made a more convincing case for Knox’s innocence.
Today, the real Knox is serving a 26 year sentence in Italy. She was found guilty but maintains her innocence. The final verdict is currently being appealed.