Foxy Knoxy Rides Again: McGinn & Blackhurst Take On Murder Media Circus With Elegant True Crime Saga
Sometimes the preferred version of a song might actually be a cover. The same can occasionally be said for movies, if not narratively (remakes), then certainly stylistically. Think of David O. Russell’s divisive Scorsese cover, American Hustle, or Richard Ayoade’s loveable, kitschy Wes Anderson replication, Submarine, each entertaining in their own way, yet artistically miming their masters – and that’s only within the last few years. But in documentary, the instances of auteurist emulation are much more uncommon. Yet, with pitch perfect formal replication – to camera interviews, a rapturous orchestral score and a tightly edited suspense narrative expanded by fictional recreations – as well as ruminations on some of the same thematic obsessions that haunt his oeuvre – self deception, true crime and a fascination for human absurdities – directors Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst have composed a stunning Errol Morris cover with Amanda Knox, a sleek dissection of the highly publicized trial that followed the murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy back in 2007.
If you were following the news at all at that point in time, you surely read headlines of the gruesome, drug fueled, sexually charged slaying of Meredith by the hands of the media coined murderer ‘Foxy Knoxy,’ an oddball 20 year old exchange student from Seattle, and her inexperienced Italian lover Raffaele Sollecito, most likely composed by the shameless endorphin hungry journalist Nick Pisa. But much like we’ve seen so recently in the horror-show of publicity that sapped the public trials of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey in Making a Murderer, all was not as open and close as the police declared in (now embarrassing) press conferences or press proclaimed in the rush to break the international story. In fact, (spoiler) when Amanda and Raffaele were initially convicted of murder, nearly all of the so called evidence called into play by Perugia prosecutor Giuliano Mignini was circumstantial at best, subjective at worst. Rudy Guede on the other hand, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast with a background of burglaries, also found himself convicted of the sexual assault and murder of Kercher thanks to an overwhelming DNA presence at the crime scene.
No doubt, the entire Knox/Sollecito trial saga is a bit of a mess. Years later, after having spent a considerable amount of time in prison and/or solitary confinement, their sentences were overturned and they were released on the grounds that the investigation had been severely mishandled and that basic evidence gathering and analysing had been deeply compromised. Then, a second-level trial went into motion, shocking the world with guilty verdicts for the both of them. An appeal in Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, then followed, seeing Knox and Sollecito wholly exonerated due to a complete lack of “biological traces that could be attributed to them in the room of the murder or on the body of the victim.”
By getting four of the tragic event’s key players – Knox, Sollecito, Mignini and Pisa – to appear before the camera giving their vastly varying accounts of the murder, the investigation, and subsequent trials, McGinn and Blackhurst have skillfully crafted the next Netflix true crime pop-culture obsession, while eloquently and contradictorily critiquing that same sense of mass hysteria that led to Amanda and Raffaele’s public defamation, Mignini’s hometown admiration and subsequent worldwide disdain, and Pisa’s journalistic fame and fortune. The judge and jury may be out on the murder, but with formal elegance and critical aplomb, Amanda Knox entertainingly places its viewers on the stand for taking part in the charade. Enjoy it while it lasts, as it’s not fun that lasts forever.
Reviewed on September 11th at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival – TIFF Docs Programme. 92 Minutes