Warner Bros. // 2011 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 13th, 2011
There are two sides to every story
The second great tragedy of a murder -- after we take into account the often-senseless death -- is that we will most likely never know how it happened. Even if a clear forensic trail is established and motive assured, those of us who've never killed find it hard to comprehend the act of taking another's life. It becomes even more difficult to understand when the victim is a young and vibrant woman, and the accused is a similarly young and vibrant woman. That's the case with the trial of Amanda Knox, and American exchange student accused of murdering her flat-mate in Italy with the help of two male friends. The trial made a big splash, with lots of media attention. That means it's time for the requisite TV movie, and the Lifetime has obliged with Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy. It's fine as far as made-for-TV fare goes, but even name actors can't take away the sting of exploitation.
Based on trial transcripts and media attention, Amanda Knox tells the story of the murder of Meredith Kecher, a British exchange student. Not a lot is clear forensically, with evidence both for and against the accused. However, Amanda Knox attempts to show how the investigation and conviction of Amanda Knox (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes) occurred amidst intense journalistic (and some would say tabloid-level) scrutiny.
Even from the title, Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy helps perpetuate the one obvious fact about the murder investigation: tremendous pressure has been put on Amanda Knox, almost the exclusion of everything else. The film is not called The Murder of Meredith Kercher, and it's sad to see Lifetime cashing in on the controversy surrounding her death. The film does an admirable job being even-handed where Knox's guilt is concerned, but by focusing so exclusively on Knox and her actions before and after the murder, the film perpetuates the very behavior that has garnered the case such international notoriety. It might be good for making sales, but it might make sensitive viewers feel a bit icky.
The film is also simply too early. Amanda Knox premiered on television in February 2011, with both Knox and one of her supposed co-conspirators still scheduled for appeal. This premature premiere ensures that the film can't really have a satisfying ending. It certainly doesn't help that all sides in the actual case have denounced the film, both for its portrayal of the facts and its depiction of the actual personalities.
Ignoring all the real-life hubbub about Kercher and Knox, Murder on Trial in Italy is an okay made-for-TV film. Hayden Panettiere does a fine job making Knox a bit ambiguous. She doesn't play her as the trumped-up sexpot of the media, nor as the innocent angel her supporters would have you believe in. Instead, she's confused young woman who we can't quite believe. Some of her actions can put down to her age and inexperience, but others are a bit more troubling. Knox's supposed partner in crime, Guiliano Mignini, is ably played by Vincent Riotta, who bears a striking resemblance to his real-life counterpart in some shots. The film also managed to snag the dependable Marcia Gay Harden as Amanda's mother. She's the one responsible for really driving home the prosecutorial aspect of Amanda's treatment.
Despite the sensational aspects of the film's title, and the trial, the film could be a lot worse. Sticking to a fairly simple flashback structure, it starts with the discovery of the body and works backwards to fill in the details of Amanda's life.
Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy comes to DVD in a simple, solid package. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is bright and colorful, belying the dark nature of the story. I didn't notice any significant compression or authoring problems, and this DVD looks about as good as you can expect from contemporary television. The audio is a bit less impressive, but totally serviceable. Dialogue is kept clear in this simple stereo mix, never overwhelmed by effects or music.
Judiciously, Lifetime chose to air a 42-minute documentary, Beyond the Headlines: The Amanda Knox Story, every time they aired Murder on Trial in Italy. That documentary has been included in this release, and it's a welcome addition. It's good to hear from the real participants, like Amanda's mother, and the documentary generates enough ambiguity and interest to make the dramatic interpretation feel almost redundant.
I'm not sure we'll ever know exactly how and why Meredith Kercher was killed, or how Amanda Knox fit into the puzzle. However, it's pretty certain that Knox will be receiving media attention for a long time to come. Adding to that attention is the generally well-put-together Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy. It may not be the most objective view of Kercher's murder, but for made-for-TV fare it's not bad. However, sensitive viewers might be miffed at the somewhat exploitative feel of the feature.
Because of the inclusion of the balancing documentary, Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated