Like the majority of the civilized world, I spent the latter half of last year listening to Serial. While I can’t call my interest an obsession — a friend of mine has taken that term and now holds it in a death grip she will never release it from — I was enthralled by the story of Adnan Syed. I’ve always had an interest in true crime, I suspect because I have yet to be a victim of anything truly horrible, and thus it’s darkly entertaining rather than PTSD-inducing. One of the more irresponsible, yet completely irresistible, consequences of the true crime genre is that it pretty much guarantees you’re going to speculate and even decide on everyone’s guilt or innocence. You know, that whole thing that we have a ridiculously complicated justice system to deal with. We’re not going to get the full story, but the format, whether it’s movie, podcast, article, or anything else, makes us feel like we are. So by the end of it, we “know” who is guilty and who is innocent, and that’s kind of a terrible thing.
Except, come on, we all know Jay did it.
This week’s movie is one such example. I read the case in the two phases of public opinion it went through. I had assumed everyone was on the same page about Knox’s guilt, but after talking it over with friends, that appears not to be the case. Then again, my entire knowledge of the case comes from the original news coverage, some later articles, and of course, this production from the good people at Lifetime. What do I actually, for sure know? Not much. Yeah, I’m a published detective novelist, but that doesn’t mean I know shit. If I try the case entirely from what I’ve seen? Foxy Knoxy is innocent.
This is another one of those movies that feels like it’s straddling the Lifetime of the past and the Lifetime of the future. It’s the story of a mother and a daughter (and two father-figures who have like three lines of dialogue between them) persevering over a corrupt system more interested in slut-shaming than justice. It’s also a Law & Order-ready retelling of a famous case. Unlike some of the other recent Lifetime productions, that really look like they’re trying to look like, you know, actual movies, this one is shot almost like a sitcom, with the overwrought performances the casual viewer has come to expect. Yes, there are times where this retelling of the tragic murder of a young woman is fucking hilarious. I feel like maybe Meredith Kercher deserved better.
That’s the crux of the story. Meredith Kercher was a British exchange student studying in Perugia, Italy and living in a house with three other young women, including Amanda Knox of Seattle, Washington (played here by Hayden “the Cheerleader” Panettiere). I have no idea if the depiction of Perugia is accurate, but if it is, holy shit, the streets are paved with weed there. It’s less a town and more an object lesson in why parents should never allow their kids out of the country. That was probably the intent of the movie in the first place. “See, if you go to Italy, you’ll have premarital sex with a creepy Italian programmer, do all the drugs ever, then get implicated in a horrific murder.”
Knox returns home one morning after a night of sex and drugs with the aforementioned programmer, Raffaele Sollecito to find a little blood in the bathroom and a locked door. The cops fortuitously just show up and break into Meredith’s room (the door’s locked and she never does that), and find her dead on the floor. The cops quickly focus on Knox, whose alibi is shaky, whose behavior is strange, and who gets fingered (not like that) by some inconvenient, though not damning, eyewitnesses. They even get a bit of a confession from Knox, who also implicates her boss, Patrick Lumumba. Open and shut, right? Let’s do to her whatever it is Italians do to criminals. I’m guessing feed them substandard lasagna and table wine?
Not so fast. Here’s the thing: there’s really no physical evidence implicating Knox (or, obviously, Lumumba). The extremely salacious tale cooked up by the prosecution — an argument turned to gang rape turned to accidental murder — looks to be just that. The only witness against Knox is the guy they eventually convicted of committing the murder, and he got a reduced sentence in exchange for the testimony. As for Knox implicating herself, it was like the Italian cops read up on how to elicit a false confession. Well, not the cheesy montage part. That was all Lifetime. As was the weird focus on that scene on her water cup. This… this is not the best one of their movies.
Meanwhile, Marcia Gay Harden plays Knox’s mom, who would also be the POV character for who Lifetime imagines their average viewer to be. So while Amanda herself has some flaws — sex, drugs, and not cleaning up the bathroom — Edda Mellas (she remarried, and still is on good terms with Amanda’s father) is allowed to be relatively perfect. Lifetime moms come in two varieties, the steely matriarch who crushes opposition with righteous cowgirl lightning, and the weepy-yet-determined mama who didn’t ask for this, thank you, but she’s going to get through it one way or the other. Mellas is the second, and she kind of doesn’t, as history has conspired to make this Lifetime movie end on a bit of a down note. Knox was convicted of the murder and got twenty-six years.
Because the Italian justice system was based on the Roman system of “let’s all drink water our of lead pipes and see what happens,” it’s completely bananas. Knox appealed and won her case, but then was re-tried (double-jeopardy is not a thing over there, except on Jeopardy), and convicted again. I think she even got a worse sentence the second time, too. Knox was no dummy and now lives in the States. While I’m certain the Italian government would like her extradited, the State Department has presumably replied to any such requests with a few condescending chuckles.
So why is Knox still convicted in the minds of the public? Well, there’s the obvious: she might have done it. I don’t think she did because of my deeply flawed understanding of the case. I think that a drooling press corps — the term “paparazzi,” is, after all, Italian — took a pretty American college student who was enjoying the freedom of living in Perugia and again, this place seems like a nonstop ‘70s party, and assigned her guilt. Some of this was due to her having a lot of sex and attempting to smoke her weight in hash, but isn’t that the purpose of college? As for why she might not have been super-deeply effected by the murder on an emotional level: She knew Kercher for all of two months. Remember, the best motive the cops could come up with was “they fought about cleaning the bathroom.”
So what did we learn? “Foxy Knoxy” was a nickname that comes from her pee wee soccer team, suggesting that if I ever have a daughter, I won’t let her play soccer in Seattle. We also learned that the Italian police are just as devoted to false confessions as the LAPD, and that if they get one out of you, don’t implicate anybody else. Unless they promise you reduced jail time, in which case go nuts.