Anyone familiar with the realm of Lifetime made-for-TV movies can readily identify their "ripped from the headlines" approach toward notorious legal cases. This tried and true formula has been evidenced in countless Lifetime films through the years and I'm quite sure that there will be little deviation from established success. At times, though, one would have to consider--when is it too soon? With the 2011 premiere of "Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial In Italy," the question becomes all the more relevant. The movie aired in February, just two months after an appeal was granted for the real life Knox and in the same month her parents were indicted by Italian police for abuse claims they were making publicly. In reality, this particular incident is still very much under scrutiny and alive in the legal system. So to have it tried as a fictionalized TV movie seems somehow suspect. While the film doesn't make an outright proclamation of actual events, it certainly seems to endorse the position that Knox is guilty. And whether or not she is--it seems that there is no need to unnecessarily muddy the waters with a "based on" accounting that amounts to a great deal of fiction for dramatic purposes.
Off my soapbox, I will now look at "Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial In Italy" as a purely fabricated account for entertainment purposes. Hayden Panettiere portrays Knox, an American student studying in Italy who is accused of participating in the sexual assault and murder of her British roommate. Her actions, along with her boyfriend, are immediately drawn into question when the body is discovered at the beginning of the film. With her story not ringing true, Knox is subjected to an intense police investigation in which her story varies dramatically along the way. Eventually, three people (including Knox) are brought to trial for this brutal crime. As far as the investigation, the film does a good job in dramatizing the sequence of events as well as the evidentiary trail. The actors are capable and the film strives for an even handed tone. The actual trial seems a bit rushed--but, all in all, (discounting your personal feelings on the matter) this is a fairly successful fictional crime drama.
Fans of Panettiere may appreciate this change-of-pace role, but despite a couple of nice moments--she has realtively little to work with. Knox is portrayed as a somewhat distant character and, as such, appears throughout the film as emotionally disconnected and blank. More concerned with canoodling with her boyfriend than in facing the realities of a police investigation, it certainly isn't a role that elicits much sympathy. One of our greatest character actors, Marcia Gay Harden, is on hand as Knox's mother--but is largely underutilized. For me, it is Vincent Riotta who provides the film's most compelling depiction as the prosecutor in charge of the case. As a made-for-TV movie, this really isn't a terrible film--in fact, it is a very decent police procedural even as it plays fast and loose with the actual facts. As a fiction, it's fine--but it is fiction! KGHarris, 3/11.