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TELEVISION REVIEW

An American accused of murder in Italy? Lifetime’s on the case.

Hayden Panettiere portrays the real-life Amanda Knox, whose case is in the appeals process. Hayden Panettiere portrays the real-life Amanda Knox, whose case is in the appeals process. (Lifetime Entertainment via AP)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / February 21, 2011

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The Amanda Knox story is layered with muddy facts, controversial DNA results, the rules of the Italian justice system, and the kind of self-serving, button-pushing tabloid exploitation that turns the world into a jury.

The case, in which the student from Seattle was convicted of killing her British roommate in Perugia, Italy, in 2007, is a complex mess, and no movie could possibly present it without selective editing, spin, and simplification. The fact that the case is still in play — it’s currently in the appeals process — means the movie will also be incomplete.

So obviously, if you decide to watch Lifetime’s “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy’’ tonight at 9, you have to know you are getting a Hollywood narrative and not a true representation of both sides of the case. Knox’s family hopes you won’t watch, and they and Knox’s defense attorneys have condemned the movie, fearing it could influence Amanda’s appeal. The family of the victim, Meredith Kercher, has also objected to the movie, after having seen the trailer’s images of the murder.

Ultimately, though, “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy’’ isn’t as sensational as it might have been. It unfolds without too much of the lurid caricature of so many other Lifetime movies, opening on the day after Kercher’s murder and then toggling between the investigation and flashbacks to what led up to the crime. There are scenes of obscured violence and blood, but not a gratuitous number of them. At the same time, the movie is far from bland, and Knox’s Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted of the murder, is given a particularly creepy portrayal by actor Paolo Romio. He’s a sort of geek vampire.

In the end, neither side of the case comes off very well. Hayden Panettiere plays Amanda as a naïve thrill-seeker and a relatively sympathetic kid, but the script calls out Knox for her self-serving lies and her strange behavior with Sollecito, when they kiss and cuddle cozily at the police station shortly after the murder. You want to see her through the eyes of her loving mother, Edda Mellas — played with heartbreaking angst by Marcia Gay Harden — but her actions and lack of reactions won’t let you. And while the prosecutors are admirably dogged, especially Giuliano Mignini (Vincent Riotta), they are crude interrogators who make the most of very weak DNA evidence.

What struck me most about the movie, beyond the controversy it has stirred, is the way the seriousness of the case dawns on Edda. Harden nicely drives home the scenes of Edda’s incrementally growing nightmare. She is the one character in the movie, along with the victim’s mother, about whom there is nothing hazy.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

AMANDA KNOX: Murder on Trial in Italy

Starring: Hayden Panettiere, Marcia Gay Harden, Paolo Romio

On: Lifetime

Time: Tonight, 9-11