Real-life killing and a story of deceit

Documentary about the 2007 murder of a British student in Italy gets the woman in the centre of the storm to speak up

This week's top pick is a documentary about a real-life killing, and it is a film that will arouse more tension and suspense than the other works of action and mayhem out this period.

Amanda Knox (NC16, 92 minutes, now on Netflix, 4/5 stars) scores one journalistic coup by getting the woman at the centre of the storm to speak on camera, then scores another one by weaving a compelling story of deception - not carried out by murder suspect Knox, but by ourselves, when our thought processes are short- circuited by deeply buried biases.

The November 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, sold millions of newspapers and generated millions more clicks for news sites, not only because of its lurid context (there were allegations that the killing was a sex game gone wrong), but also because both the victim and the alleged killer, her flatmate, were attractive young women.

The news reports at the time now look ridiculous. These alleged that Knox did not appear sufficiently grief-stricken, that she and her boyfriend were inappropriately touchy-feely during investigations. That these were sold as facts pertinent to the case, not irrelevant observations, shows just how readily tidbits that fit a presupposition are swallowed by the viewer.

Murder suspect Amanda Knox gives insight into what people think they know about her just by looking. PHOTO: NETFLIX

Knox sits in a chair and speaks in an articulate way about what we think we know about her just by looking and why readers were so eager to peer into the soul of the woman the tabloids dubbed "Foxy Knoxy".

Film-makers Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst play it right down the middle - an astounding feat of restraint when tabloid freelancer Nick Pisa and Italian prosecutor Guiliano Mignini speak, each revealing far more about their own moral compasses than about the case on which they worked. Their moral codes - and by extension, ours - raise questions regarding standards applied to women's behaviour.

The Accountant (NC16, 128 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars) sees Ben Affleck portray a man who is a cross between Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man (1988) and Matt Damon's Jason Bourne - his Christian Wolff is a spreadsheet expert on the autism spectrum, who also happens to be into weapons and martial arts.

Ben Affleck with Anna Kendrick (both above) in The Accountant, where he launders money. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

This picture differs from other men-with-special-skills action- thrillers in that Wolff has no problem working for the bad guys. Relax: All he does for them is light money-laundering. Then he takes on a books-checking job for tech tycoon Lamar Black and Wolff is soon in over his head; bodies pile up.

Director Gavin O'Connor (Warrior, 2011) gives old-fashioned story-telling polish, avoiding shakey cameras and excessive angst in the male lead.

He also knows when to acknowledge the silliness of its set-up - at one point, Wolff's colleague Dana (Anna Kendrick) makes a joke about nerds with pocket protectors. The humour- impaired man points out that he wears one.

Still, there is little depth or novelty to this work's premise of a loner hero with superhuman powers, even if one of these skills is understanding the state tax code inside and out.

This reviewer had high hopes for Taiwanese picture The Tenants Downstairs (R21, 116 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars), a psychological thriller heavy on slapstick, softcore and gore - Taipei titillation, if you will. There is plenty here to shock the viewer, but little that made sense.

The crew's pedigree is unusual. Music industry boss Adam Tsuei helms this work, based on a novel by acclaimed writer Giddens Ko (who also directed his movie version of his romantic novel, You Are The Apple Of My Eye).

Risks are taken with narrative style - viewers need to think about what they are seeing, as well as when and where it is all taking place.

The cast features Hong Kong star Simon Yam as the landlord whose cameras make him the ultimate voyeur, peeking into everything the tenants do, and they do get up to a lot.

The movie's campy, operatic approach to violence and sex and classical music score owe a lot to the Korean cinema of auteurs such as Park Chan Wook (The Handmaiden, 2016; Oldboy, 2003).

Ko and Tsuei go to where the squirm is - there is incest, nudity (both straight and gay varieties) and torture.

But that is where the resemblance ends. As arthouse provocation, the film is moderately successful, but as a work of coherent storytelling, it fails.

When your haunted-house movie is titled The Disappointments Room (NC16, 100 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars), you are just pinning a Kick Me sign on your back.

This humdrum horror work is not a complete disappointment - it does have a couple of scares and plenty of creepy atmosphere - but director D.J. Caruso (I Am Number Four, 2011; Disturbia, 2007) bungles it badly in editing and characters.

Kate Beckinsale and Mel Raido play couple Dana and David, who with their son Lucas (Duncan Joiner), move into a historical home, one that contains a "disappointments room", a place for disabled and disfigured children to spend their lives, locked away.

Things take a turn for the frightening, of course, but the film spends so much time with dramatic dead ends, it becomes hard to care.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Real-life killing and a story of deceit'. Print Edition | Subscribe