With her bratty attitude and self-absorbed worldview, the Amanda Knox that Hayden Panettiere gave us in Monday night’s Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial In Italy sure looked like she was more than capable of murder. The way the Heroes-star-turned-villain portrayed her, this TV version of Knox would have knocked off anyone who was bummer enough to so much as criticize her housekeeping habits.
This Lifetime production was an effective piece of pulp exploitation film, chronicling the well-known case of Knox, an American college student accused of murdering her British roommate in 2007 while studying abroad, in Italy. Meredith Kercher (Amanda Fernando Stevens) was found dead, with her throat slashed and signs of possible sexual assault. Knox, her Italian boyfriend Raffaelle Sollecito (Paolo Romio), and their acquaintance Rudy Guede (Djirbi Kebe) were accused of the crime.
The way this TV-movie had it, Knox was exercising her freedom as a study-abroad wild-child, having sex and drugs with her handsome new boyfriend. The only drag? Roomie Kercher, who had the nerve to tell Knox she was a slob and asked her — in a snooty British accent, no less! — to clean up the apartment they shared. It was the contention of the Italian prosecution that, whereas most college kids just fantasize about doing away with a pill of a roommate, Knox actually did it, with a big knife. Afterward, Knox was shown saying that being the focus of a murder investigation is “just so random, y’know?”
Fer sure — not. In recreating the possible scenario of the crime, Murder On Trial made it look pretty plausible that Knox and a couple of accomplices could have, may have, done the horrific deed. The boyfriend, we were told, “collected knives since he was 14.” And you, as a graduate student of American TV-movies, just knew that when, shortly before being interrogated, Knox was shown doing somersaults to blow off steam — well, it was obvious that that behavior would later be used in court by the prosecution as further evidence that Knox was, in their words, “a narcissistic, aggressive, and manipulative young woman.”
With her hair pulled back and her eyes narrowed, Panettiere had the blank moon face of either (A) a remorseless killer or (B) a dazed innocent. The filmmakers used Panettiere’s inexpressiveness to great effect. The visuals were nothing special; director Robert Dornheim chose or was ordered to shoot everything without any flourishes, to just put across the facts and the script’s interpretation of them clearly, simply. (I read that in Britain, the killing scene was graphic, but on Monday night those moments were blurry — it made me wonder whether Lifetime decided to soften the treatment to placate the Knox defense or to avoid perturbing viewers.) The screenplay by Wendy Battles made gestures toward even-handedness, hammering home the points, for example, that the crime scene was contaminated by numerous people, and so little of Knox’s DNA was found on the murder weapon, it probably wouldn’t have held up as valid evidence had the trial been conducted in America.
It’s no wonder Knox’s defense team wanted to prevent Murder On Trial In Italy from airing. The Knox presented here either lied during interrogation or was bullied into fingering the wrong man early on, depending on who you believe. But the overall impression I got after watching was that Knox was so petty, so selfish, that she might, under the spell of romance, fury, and some combination of mind-altering substances, been capable of committing a crime. Knox’s parents, particularly Marcia Gay Harden as Amanda’s mother, are well-drawn, and Harden is very good at implying that, while she loves her little girl, she also fears she may have raised a little monster.
The real-life Knox is in jail in Italy — she was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years; she maintains her innocence and the verdict is being appealed.
Did you watch Amanda Knox? How do you find this TV-movie: Guilty or not-guilty… of holding your interest?