Amanda Knox


This is what a thousand yard stare looks like.

This is what a thousand yard stare looks like.

(2016) Documentary (Netflix) Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito, Giuliano Mignini, Meredith Kercher, Nick Pisa, Stephanie Kercher, Valter Biscotti, Dr. Stefano Conti, Dr. Carla Vecchiotti, Rudy Dengue, Curt Knox, Arline Kercher. Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn

 

Most of us have a certain amount of faith in our legal system. We believe that we are protected by the laws that require that preserve the rights of the accused. In other words, if we are innocent, the law should protect us. However, recent history has taught us that it isn’t always the case.

On November 1, 2007, British exchange student Meredith Kercher was raped and murdered in her apartment in Perugia, Italy, an apartment she shared with American student Amanda Knox and two Italian students. Knox, who claimed to have spent the night with her new boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, became the focus of the investigation largely because of her behavior which in the eyes of the Italian police and prosecutors seemed to show a lack of grief over her roommate’s brutal murder.

What followed was a nightmare. The media caught hold of the case and the tabloids, particularly in the UK, had a field day. Knox was characterized as a sex-crazed lunatic and was accused of  murdering her roommate in a sex party gone bad. When the bloody fingerprints of a known burglar named Rudy Guede were found on some of the victim’s things, he was added to the accused along with Raffaele who was considered an accessory. DNA evidence seemed to confirm this and Knox and the two men were convicted.

Except that questions began to rise about the veracity of the DNA evidence and the behavior of the prosecutor Giuliano Mignini who fancied himself a modern-day Columbo and of the Italian police in general. An appeal process was begun and soon suspicions began to circulate that Knox and Sollecito might well be as innocent as they claimed to be. In the meantime the media circus continued.

Equal parts documentary and cautionary tale, the filmmakers show a clear reverence for Errol Morris and his style, incorporating it somewhat. Modern documentaries have become parades of talking heads offset by archival footage and animated re-creations but while those elements are all present here, Amanda Knox comes off as a scripted mystery (albeit one most of us know how it ends) more than a typical doc. In fact, this is as entertaining a documentary as you’re likely to find without sacrificing any of its mandate to educate.

Nick Pisa, a tabloid reporter who supplied the Daily Mirror with much of its headline copy, represents the media here and does he ever have a warped view as what the responsibilities of journalism entail. In an era where the media’s coverage of president-elect Donald Trump has brought a focus onto that very subject, we can see where the “If it bleeds it leads” ethos has taken us and how the media, rather than being a public advocate, is now a lapdog in search of ratings and advertising dollars. It no longer is important to get things right but to get things first. As a former journalist myself, it makes me want to puke.

Mignini also doesn’t come off looking good. An aficionado of detective fiction, after his DNA evidence is debunked he still maintains that Knox is guilty because as he puts it he can see it in her eyes. While Mignini seems a congenial man he certainly doesn’t seem capable of being a prosecutor – at least not a competent one. Of course, it should also be taken with a grain of salt that we are seeing things entirely from the point of view from the Knox camp which also has it’s downside.

Knox has not talked about her ordeal since it ended until now, and she makes a striking presence. I’m not sure if her commentary was scripted or off the cuff but she does come off as an intelligent young woman. Now pushing 30, she is far from the flighty 20-year-old she was when these events occurred. Certainly she made some mistakes in judgment but come on, she was 20. What 20 year old gets every life decision right? Her thousand yard stare, pretty much captured above, is the most haunting image I’ll take from this film. While it should be remembered that Meredith Kercher was ultimately the victim here (and to the filmmaker’s discredit she is little more than a supporting character here as was her family which continues to assert that Knox was the killer) she wasn’t the only one and it seems to me that we are all partially to blame. If we didn’t eat up these lurid and gruesome news stories like Halloween candy the media wouldn’t lose their minds around stories like this – and maybe justice might be more than a possibility.

REASONS TO GO: Less documentary style so much as a whodunit style. It’s very much an indictment of modern mass media as well as the Italian police. We get to hear from Knox herself.
REASONS TO STAY: May be too intense for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES:  Some profanity along with some disturbing crime scene photos and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This marks the 25th original documentary to be distributed by Netflix.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/22/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Thin Blue Line
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: The Look of Silence

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Crazy Love


Crazy Love

Even Linda Riss can't believe her eyes.

(Magnolia) Burt Pugach, Linda Riss, Jimmy Breslin, Bob Janoff, Sylvia Hoffman, Rita Kessler, Berry Stainback, Janet Pomerantz. Directed by Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens

Love is an emotion that can overwhelm even the most rational of us. Under its spell, we turn into gibbering, obsessive freaks that lose all sense of proportion and reality. We descend into a kind of baby-talking, goo-goo eyed madness that is considered part of love’s sweet charm. Sometimes, that madness turns savage.

Burt Pugach was a successful attorney in the Bronx (read: ambulance chaser) in 1957 when he met Linda Riss. On the surface, they couldn’t have been more different; he was sophisticated and charming but far from handsome. She was beautiful but naive, easily swayed by the more worldly Burt.

At first she wasn’t interested, but he was persistent. He was co-owner of a ritzy nightclub in Manhattan and he would take her there to meet celebrities of the day; whenever she walked in the door, the orchestra would play “Linda.” He had his own airplane and a pilot’s license and would take her all over the Northeast and beyond. He gave her lavish gifts. His persistence eventually paid off.

There was just one problem – Burt was already married. When Linda found out about it, she was understandably devastated. Burt protested that he had already been in the process of getting a divorce before he met Linda – why, here were the divorce papers to prove it. However, Linda eventually discovered that the papers were forged.

For Linda, that was the last straw. She called it off between her and Burt and moved on. Burt, however, couldn’t let go; he continued to pursue her despite her repeated entreaties to leave her alone. She met a nice man whom she eventually became engaged to. The thought of Linda with any other man but him drove Burt over the edge, leading him to commit an act so vile, so dreadful that it captured the headlines of its time and even by today’s standards is unusually brutal. It would lead the two of them on an odyssey that would continue long past the tragedy of that day in 1959.

I won’t go into what happened precisely and the consequences of the action. Suffice to say that either you have never heard of Burt Pugach in which case I don’t want to take away from the impact of the documentary by telling you some of the more shocking aspects of the movie in advance, or you are aware of the facts of the case in which case I don’t need to reiterate what you already know.

The filmmakers a former publicist (Klores) and an actor (Stevens) who combine talking head interviews with the principals and their acquaintances, as well as incorporating a wealth of archival footage, grainy home movies and newspaper headlines. In all honesty, the documentary portion is in some ways fairly by-the-numbers.

The best part of the documentary is that the filmmakers choose to weave the story in such a way that you get entangled in it and before long you become absolutely enthralled by it. It becomes a cinematic train wreck in a good way – you can’t take your eyes away. Kudos to Klores and Stevens for allowing the story to take center stage.

It’s the story itself that captivates here and every juicy twist and turn that it takes drops your jaw to the floor anew. I know that truth is stranger than fiction, but this is stranger than science fiction. It reminds you once again that people will do incredible things in the name of love and terrible things in the name of obsession.

WHY RENT THIS: This is a remarkable story that is the poster child for the truism that truth is stranger than fiction.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It is very much a New York story and those who find such things uninteresting will probably be put off by this.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language and some frank sexual references, but it is the mature themes of the documentary that make it questionable for younger audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won Best Documentary Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: In addition to 43 minutes of additional interview footage with the principals, there is also a slideshow of Linda’s artwork as well as copies of Burt’s letters from prison to Linda.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Orphan