Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial In Italy
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Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial In Italy

There is something seductive about true crime stories that make it one of the most popular guilty pleasures in history. That is not intended as a sweeping generalization as much as a documented fact of life. Perhaps the first such story record is that of the fratricide perpetrated in the Bible detailing the murder of Able by his brother Cain. In Edwardian England, pulp novels frequently referred to as ‘penny dreadful’s’ permitted o to follow an anxious public to be simultaneously frightened and thrilled by the exploits of the serial killer known as ‘Jack the Ripper.’ Today tabloid magazines and their counterparts on cable television continue to thrill the public with the salacious details of horrendous crimes captivating the audience with a safely vicarious walk on the seedy side of human behavior. I have to admit that on several occasions I have stopped channel surfing to watch ‘True Hollywood stories’ or a similar true crime tale on the History or Biography Channel. There is a draw there that is emulated in the most enduring genre on television, the detective series. Frequently series of this type base their episodes on people and situations ‘ripped from the headlines’. One series in this category, ‘Law & Order (Prime)’ ran for a record-breaking twenty years spawning a half dozen spin-off utilizing the True Crime format. The niche cable network that targets a female demographic, ‘Lifetime,’ has also relied on true crime stories to spice up their programming. Of course in these cases, either the victim or the alleged criminal must be a woman. One of their more recent offerings in this genre, ‘Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy,’ has stirred up a noticeable amount of controversy partially due to the case being rather fresh in the public’s perception. It should not come as a surprise that the producers defend the attempts at retaining the veracity of the movie while those associated with the titular young woman accused of the murder maintain there are significant deviations from the facts of the case. In either case, it must be kept in mind that is of the true crime genre is a certain amount of embellishment under the banner of dramatic license that is applied to the teleplay. While the producers may make every overt precaution possible in remaining unbiased factors such as casting, choices in dialogue and even costuming can instill a point of view with the viewers. As such this movie should be taken for what it is, entertainment purposes only.

There may be a reasonable why ‘The Amanda Knox Story’ seems familiar, then the way it is packaged is along the lines of an expanded episode of a television procedural crime drama, this should come as no surprise considering Wendy Battles authored the teleplay. If you have a keen eye and prediction for reading the closing credits on your favorite TV shows, you would have seen this name appear on numerous episodes of ‘CSI: NY’ and ‘Law & Order’ as a writer, story editor, and executive producer. This is serious credentials that do help this movie rise above the status of a movie of the week but this transition to feature length movie is not an easy one. Since this remains a hotly contested case, the story has to remain sufficiently ambiguous to keep the network lawyers appeased, but that results in the film ultimately presenting itself as a soft sell. When a particular crime is used as the basis of a TV episode the writer is afforded the luxury of changing the names, details, and outcome enough to drive home a definitive point of view resulting in a solid conclusion. Having to keep the story open-ended to the degree achieved here validates it as a true crime story but soften the impact and leaves an unsatisfying feel at the end. There is a case being made here indicating her culpability while trying to remain somewhat apart from judgment. Of course, this is to permit the audience an opportunity to serve as judge and jury, but after a familiar TV setup, it pulls the procedure carpet out towards the end with a decided point of view. This effect is mitigated to some degree by the experience of director Robert Dornhelm. He has taken on telling ‘real stories from a more historical perspective including ‘Spartacus, ‘Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story.’ ‘RFK’ and another Lifetime offering, ‘Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story.’ This style is notably simplistic a technique used here in an attempt to unravel some of the inherently complicated aspects of this crime.

Amanda Knox (Hayden Panettiere) is an American college student spending a semester abroad in Italy. Like many university students, she is experiencing the freedom of leaving her parents and normal life thousands of miles away. While in Italy Amanda decides to live in a flat with a couple of other exchange students including British student Meredith Kercher (Amanda Fernando Stevens). Amanda naturally enough begins to make friends in this foreign country including a young man named Raffaele Sollecito (Paolo Romio). When Kercher is found brutally stabbed to death the Italian police soon determine that Knox was principally involved in the murder. Slowly a view of the young American woman is put together that paints Knox almost as an uncaring psychopath. One instance is when her flatmates observe Knox and her boyfriend waiting to be interviewed by the Italian authorities. Knox, who has the unfortunate nickname of ‘Foxy Knoxy’ is seen giggling and nuzzling with Sollecito eventually show doing cartwheels. She maintained that this is just a way she customarily employs to burn off nervous energy. Ironically has Panettiere built her career to date playing cheerleaders in film and television so performing such a maneuver had to be familiar to her. Part of that history with the audience is challenged here as Knox freely admits to having a sexual relationship with Sollecito and smoking pot the night of the murder. Going against the ‘clean image’ many of the audience relate to the actress it subtly adds a prejudice built into the portrayal. The bottom line is the movie is enjoyable in the salacious way common to this sort of story but leaves an empty feeling.

Posted 07/21/11                Posted  03/14/2018

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