If you’ve heard anything about Stillwater, a new movie that opened this weekend, it’s probably that it’s loosely based on the events in the Amanda Knox case—Knox herself wishes she had been left out of it—and that it stars Matt Damon. Those two facts might initially seem in conflict with each other: I don’t think Damon would make any casting director’s wish list for the role of a female college student who’s been charged with killing her roommate, being that he is both male and 50 years old. (Will Hunting no more!) Indeed, instead of focusing on the student in such a scenario, Stillwater centers on her father, and that’s Damon character. That choice is the first big tell that that the film isn’t a straightforward adaptation of real-life events, but it doesn’t stop there. The differences between Knox’s case and Stillwater run deep—here’s an inventory of the most major points where real life and fiction diverge, including some spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie.
Amanda Knox is from Seattle, where she came from a middle-class family and attended the University of Washington. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and both remarried. Stillwater gives Allison Baker (played by Abigail Breslin) a less stable and therefore more dramatic backstory: She’s poor, from rural Oklahoma, and was primarily raised by her grandmother because her mother died by suicide and her father, Bill (that’s Damon), had substance abuse and legal problems.
Knox’s father, Curt Knox, who worked in finance, spoke to the media about his daughter’s case, but he was not a cloak-and-dagger figure and her lone lifeline, so the Bill Baker character is basically a whole-cloth invention. Once again, the added-in details about his past heighten the drama: Bill is a high school dropout who works on oil rigs, but when we meet him, he’s recently laid off and has been working shifts in construction and tornado cleanup to get by. He’s a bit of a heartland stereotype: He’s a man of few words (and when he does speak, he says “ma’am” a lot). He wears a baseball hat and jeans everywhere, prays before meals, has a tattoo of an eagle on his arm, owns guns, and insistently only speaks English, despite spending a significant amount of time in Europe in connection with his daughter’s case. Though all of this seems to scream “Trump supporter,” the movie avoids stating the character’s political views: When another character asks him who he voted for in the U.S. presidential election, he says he didn’t vote at all, on account of being a felon. Bill and his daughter aren’t usually at odds, but due to his unreliability over the years, she doesn’t trust him.
In November 2007, Meredith Kercher’s body was discovered in her apartment in Perugia, Italy. Kercher had been on exchange from a university in her native England to study there that fall and living with another exchange student, Amanda Knox, an American. Knox was eventually charged with the murder, along with her then-boyfriend, an Italian student named Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, a local man who was acquainted with a man Kercher was dating.
Stillwater switches out Perugia for Marseille, France, where American student Allison was charged with murdering Lina, a young woman of Arab descent with whom Allison both lived and was romantically involved at the time of her death.
Stereotypes and Tabloid Charges
Knox garnered an enormous amount of media attention worldwide: She was dubbed a femme fatale and nicknamed “Foxy Knoxy,” and all sorts of outlandish theories were spouted during the ensuing frenzy, like the one that the killing was part of one of her and Sollecito’s drug-fueled sex games. Echoing the way tabloids speculated wildly about Knox’s sex life, in Stillwater, it’s implied that the media seized on Allison and Lina’s same-sex relationship as a salacious detail. There’s additional tension in Allison’s nationality: Despite her not actually coming from a family of much means, she’s considered privileged because she’s a white American university student.
The majority of the media attention focused on Knox and Sollecito in the Italy case, but there were a few other notable people who were investigated. When Knox initially questioned by police about the case, she implicated Patrick Lumumba, her boss at a bar where she worked part time. He was arrested, but was released after a short time, and Knox blamed fingering him on manipulation from Italian authorities. More importantly, Guede was arrested as a potential subject a few weeks after the murder. Guede had fled to Germany after the body was discovered but was extradited back to Italy.
In Stillwater, Allison says that the night Lina was murdered, she had drinks with a man named Akim, who then stole Allison’s purse and killed Lina. When the movie begins, Akim has never been found, but Allison believes tracking him down and testing his DNA could exonerate her. In both cases, a foreign white woman accusing a nonwhite man of the crime heightens tensions; in the movie, many doubt Akim exists at all.
Trials and Prison Sentence
In Knox and Sollecito’s first trial in 2009, they were convicted of murder and sexual violence, among other charges, and sentenced to 26 and 25 years in prison, respectively. They won a 2011 appeal and were released after spending four years in prison. The legal saga still wasn’t over: In 2013, an Italian court reversed the acquittal. They were cleared again, seemingly once and for all, in 2015. Guede, whose fingerprints and DNA were found at the crime scene, opted for a fast-tracked trial and was convicted in 2008. He was initially given a sentence of 30 years, but it was reduced over time, and he was eventually released in 2020 and told he could finish his sentence through community service. Guede is now the sole person convicted of the murder.
In the film, a gravestone places Lina’s death in 2014, and when we meet her, Allison has been in prison for five years, with four more to serve. It is clear she has been through an appeals process as well, because when Bill consults Allison’s lawyer about a potential new lead involving Akim, she urges the Bakers to drop it and make peace with the sentence. Bill seeks to find Akim because there was unidentified DNA at Lina’s murder scene, an echo of the other evidence in the Knox case.
Supporting Their Daughters
The Knox family initially used airline miles, vacation time, and sick time to find a way for at least one family member to be in Italy to be with Amanda and attend her trial at every possible moment, and there were times when they lived there for stretches. Paying for living arrangements as well as her legal fees left her family in bad shape financially. Amanda’s parents also had their own brush with the law while in Italy: At one point, Amanda’s mother and father were charged with slander for alleging that police abused their daughter while interrogating her about Kercher’s murder.
Like the Knoxes, Bill Baker visits his daughter in prison in Marseille frequently, so much so that the staff at the hotel where he stays know him well. Over the course of the film, he ends up moving to Marseille permanently for a time. Allison’s grandmother is in poor health and unable to visit, so Bill is all she has. It is clear that Allison’s case has put a strain on their already-strapped family. In the movie, it is mentioned that Bill once punched a journalist over frustration with the case and how his daughter was being treated.
Time in Prison
While Amanda Knox was in prison, she kept busy in a variety of ways, which she wrote about in her 2013 memoir: She studied Italian, kept a diary, exercised, hung out with the toddler child of another inmate as well as the prison’s chaplain, and she helped fellow inmates by writing and translating for them.
We know less about how Allison spent her time in prison, but it comes up that she used to work in the library and no longer does as the events of the film begin. It’s unclear if she worked on improving her French while in prison or came into it with a good command of the language, but she can read and write in the language, and by the time she gets a parole day to spend away from prison, her French is good enough to impress the woman Bill is living with and her daughter.
Knox has said she considered suicide while in prison; in the movie, Allison attempts to hang herself after the conditional day release.
Falling in Love With a Local Hot Lady
There is no public record of Curt Knox falling in love with a local hot lady while spending time in Italy to visit his daughter and support her during her trial. In contrast, much of the plot of Stillwater is devoted to Bill Baker meeting and falling in love with a local hot lady while staying in Marseille for his daughter and her case.
Happy (?) Ending
After a four-year ordeal in Italy, upon her release from prison, Amanda Knox got a hero’s welcome back to the United States in 2011. Allison is also eventually released after some questionable heroics from Bill and receives a town fair upon her return to Oklahoma. I won’t tell you the final twist, but given how much it veers away from the Knox story, it probably won’t come as a surprise that the movie’s ultimate resolution is a little more dramatic than what happened after Knox came home.