“This isn’t a murder trial. It’s a popularity contest.”
Michael Winterbottom’s approach to making a film about the Amanda Knox case is similar what Godard did with “King Lear.” He makes a movie about the idea of making a movie about the case rather than the case itself, and submerges himself in the culture in which such a case is possible, forming a series of relationships to parallel the situation that might have motivated the crime. A sense of endangerment heightens his sensitivity to the sex murder, but he is unable to determine the truth behind the evidence.
We can never know whether or not Amanda Knox was guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher. We want to believe she is a killer at the same time as we protest her innocence. The idea of her as a murderess excites us, but still we desire a verdict of innocence. The only way to truly resolve our fascination with her is to place ourselves in the position of her victim, as Michael Douglas did with Sharon Stone in ”Basic Instinct, “or, more drastically, Gene Berveotes’ acceptance of Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu’s challenge in the original version of “The Vanishing.”
Girls are trained to identify the sociopathic personality traits in an attractive man, and thus are equipped to avoid falling into their webs, while boys are trained to interpret a woman’s good looks as evidence of an angelic nature, and they grow into men whose desire to possess beauty leads them down the oily road to death. In True Crime magazines, the female killer is generally a box-headed troglodyte who makes a perfect fit for the electric chair. The femme fatale of pulp fiction is something entirely different, but we are only aware of her as a fictional character, and it is a rare man who can identify and avoid her in real life.
As the film-maker Thomas, who functions as Winterbottom’s alter-ego, actor Daniel Bruhl is dull and cloddish. His behavior toward the women in whom he is sexually interested is aggressively stupid, as if his intention is to attract and antagonize them. One of the women is a journalist covering the murder case, against whom he displays the most primitive forms of jealousy, and the other is a waitress who reminds him of the woman accused of murdering her room-mate, who he flirts with but avoids committing himself sexually. He also exhibits a hostility toward the hive of journalists covering the murder trial for tabloid newspapers, believing himself superior to them because of his intention to find the truth rather than exploit the sensationalism. He has been contracted to make a true crime film, but refuses to make such a film. And the audience for Winterbottom’s film has probably come to it out of a desire to see a simple true crime film so they can relive the historical events in the personal intimacy of a motion picture re-enactment. Something to bring them closer to Amanda Knox.
But Knox is only a distant shadow, twice removed from the real person. First, through the fictionalized name of Jessica Fuller, and then through the actress Genevieve Gaunt, who plays Jessica. She is like a false memory of Amanda, who occasionally reflects a similar face. Gaunt has done so little as an actress that most of us will have no other reference point except Amanda Knox in these brief glimpses of her in the courtroom. But we know she is not really the person with whom we identify her, and neither is her distant doppelganger, the waitress Bea, played by Ava Acres, who, unlike Gaunt and Knox, has the kind of looks that are appealing in youth but will quickly and sadly degenerate to a frowsy dowdiness.
With all of Winterbottom’s anima shifting, the audience is swindled out of their Amanda Knox true-crime movie, just as Thomas swindles his producers out of the movie he has promised them. And in the end, there is only one thing of importance we take away from the film. The name of Amanda Knox will be remembered long after the victim Meredith Kercher is forgotten. All Winterbottom can do to remedy this is to dedicate his confused, messed-up film to Meredith, hoping to stamp her remembrance, if not on the face of history, but at least on the final flicker of his film.