“Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing,” Amanda Knox declares with steely resolve in Netflix’s documentary about the controversial investigation and media firestorm that saw her convicted twice—and acquitted twice—for the grisly 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, “or I am you.”
Knox, now 29, is acutely aware of what the world thought of her nine years ago when headlines about “Foxy Knoxy” dominated the news cycle. Older, more wearied, and at times extremely emotional, Knox bares her soul for the cameras in Amanda Knox, which took directors Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst five years to pull together and achieves what all that overexposure never tried to do all those years ago: It makes her seem human.
Premiering Friday at the Toronto Film Festival, the film sheds new light on Amanda Knox the woman, if not much new evidence of what really happened the night Kercher, a 21-year-old British exchange student, was sexually assaulted and killed inside the flat they shared in Perugia, Italy. Promising never-before-seen archival materials unearthed from the original investigation, Amanda Knox is more concerned with presenting a fuller portrait of the Knox the world never got to know, in order to better understand the human complexities—within Knox, her accusers, the media, and the public—that made vilifying her so easy.
One of the most striking new pieces of material in the documentary comes early on: Vivid, haunting footage of the late Kercher, smiling and beautiful and alive. It was filmed by Knox herself in the months before Kercher’s death, captured on a camera as the two newly acquainted roommates spent time together. That image of Kercher resonates throughout Amanda Knox as a counterbalance to the graphic crime scene photos that circulated widely after her death, reminding viewers of the human life lost at the center of the whole affair—and the selective images that came to illustrate the narrative that emerged.
The film questions why the young, pretty, and blonde Knox remained the focal point of the Kercher case, even when a third suspect, Rudy Guede, was separately tried and convicted for the murder. Guede, who fled Italy for Germany after Kercher’s slaying, maintained his innocence and changed his initial story to implicate Knox as present that night, contrary to her and boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito’s accounts. He saw his own sentence reduced when Knox and Sollecito were convicted and is represented in the film by his lawyer, Walter Biscotti.
Amanda Knox also zeroes in on a lesser-known portion of the Skype conversation Guede had with a friend while he was on the lam in Germany. According to transcripts obtained by the filmmakers, Guede claimed to have walked in on an intruder after Kercher was attacked and bleeding from her throat, then admitted, “I’m scared… I’ll kill myself.”
The filmmakers obtained taped phone calls recorded by Italian law enforcement who wiretapped Knox and Sollecito’s phones following the killing. In one conversation days after Kercher’s body was discovered, Knox shares her rattled nerves with childhood friend Brett Lither. Neither young woman seems to fully grasp the enormity of what’s happened, and Lither reassures Knox with the optimism of a teenage girl that she should stay positive, and that the year ahead will still be one to remember. In another taped phone call from jail, Knox is shocked to learn from her mother that the case has blown up into a full-fledged media frenzy.
Amanda Knox stirs sympathy for Knox herself as it revisits how the murder investigation was shaped by the two men arguably most instrumental in perpetrating the image of Knox as a perverted sex obsessive: Nick Pisa, the slick Daily Mail journalist who covered the Kercher case on the ground, and Giuliano Mignini, the Italian prosecutor who was convinced that the most farfetched possible explanation of Kercher’s murder, that it was the result of twisted sex games gone awry, must be the right one.
Pisa unapologetically revels in recounting how he gained close access to the investigation as one of the first British reporters on the scene, and helps make the case against headline-hungry tabloid journalism by openly admitting to not confirming every juicy scoop he printed. But it’s Mignini, who admits to leading his investigation based on a number of gut hunches and circumstantial judgments, who contributes the most intriguing rearview observations on the shaping of the Knox narrative.
He recalls, for instance, arriving to the scene of the crime, taking one look at a broken window, and knowing it must have been staged to give the appearance of a break-in. He remembers looking up and seeing the now-famous image of Knox and her boyfriend embracing outside the house, kissing inappropriately in the immediate aftermath of her friend’s murder. Later, that image and the widespread scrutiny of Knox’s seemingly aloof reactions helped convince onlookers of her guilt.
The film, however, fills in gaps nobody bothered to report: That Knox and Sollecito, who had only known each other for one youthful whirlwind week, had been instructed to clear the house for investigators when they were photographed in one others’ arms, and were consoling each other because they’d just learned of Kercher’s death. It also features the first extensive interviews with the forensic experts whose analysis of the investigation’s shoddy DNA testing helped free Knox and Sollecito after four years in prison.
Amanda Knox is not a true crime expose nor Netflix’s next Making a Murderer, so much as it is a dense look at the sensationalism that drove the Knox narrative to its most salacious ends, painting the then-20-year-old American exchange student as a sex-crazed youth gone homicidal. In allowing Knox to stare into the eyes of her still-judgmental public, McGinn and Blackhurst peel back the curtain on Amanda Knox, the woman forever marked by the world’s invasive gaze who now lives in relative solitude in Seattle, Washington.
Knox carries a weight beyond her years in those eyes, but also has empathy for the public, driven by their own fears, that so easily saw her as a monster. When Mignini sits for the cameras and opens up about his own worldviews, his perspective also seems changed by time and hindsight. The father of four daughters, he describes himself as a devout Roman Catholic who loves detective stories and idolizing Sherlock Holmes. Now, after the Italian courts issued their second and definitive absolutions of Knox and Sollecito’s convictions, he admits, perhaps for the first time, that he might have doubts as to the couple’s guilt after all. “If they are innocent,” he offers, “I hope they are able to forget their suffering.”