Into The Abyss Reviews
"A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life"
Into the Abyss is another remarkable documentary from one of films greatest ever, Werner Herzog. It's crazy how he can inject beauty into everything he touches. Now with Into the Abyss, the beauty isn't overpowering, as the story doesn't really call for it, but it's still there. It's in the questions that Herzog asks, it's in the statements members of the deceased families makes; it's there.
This documentary follows a triple murder and the two men charged with the crime. One of which was put to death, the other was sentenced to life in prison. Both men claim they had no involvement in the murder. Herzog isn't trying to make a case that either of the men is guilty or innocent. He's not tying to make a case for the abolition of the death penalty. He states that he doesn't believe human beings should be executed, but he enters the story with no bias at all in his presentation of everything. This is something that very few documentaries made on controversial subjects are able to do. Most of the time, the filmmakers bias will enter into the story. Herzog's does not and that's his genius.
Interviews include a clergy member who goes to see men who are about to be put to death, a sister and daughter of two of the victims, a brother of the other victim, the father of one of the man who was sentenced for life, a man who worked at the place where death row inmates take their final breath, and the wife of the man who was sentenced to life. Each and every interview has extreme power because what is spoken is spoken from the heart. Herzog is spot on with the questions he asks too. He always knows where to take an interview and he does so here with precise perfection.
Into the Abyss is a great documentary and just proves once again why Herzog is a legend. It's sad to watch the families talk about it all, but once again Herzog does find the beauty in it. The film can be hard to watch at times because of the subject material and all of the facts that are brought out, but it is a film that deserves to be watched.
Incorporating police footage, interviews with family of the victims, law men, clergy men, the perpetrators, and others, this is a tremendously gripping and fascinating piece of work. It can be quite hard to watch at times, but it is so compelling that you can't help but watch. And, despite a few light hearted and quirky moments, this definitely ranks as one of Herzog's most depressing and unsettling films.
It could have been so easy for him to get on a soap box and preach for a while, but Herzog takes the smart route and just tells a story, leaving the tough stuff up to the viewer, which, with a touchy subject like capital punishment, is the best way to go. Highly recommended.
Conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime serve as an examination of why people - and the state - kill.
He's taken us into a forgotten cave; alongside bears; to the end of the world; and now Werner Herzog takes us straight into the mind of a madman, in a documentary about what causes people to kill and what society's attitude to such people should be. Documentaries tend to stand back from their topics; Herzog gets right up under their nose. At times I felt Herzog was oblivious to his audience, as though trying to satisfy his own curiosity. And that's why he has always been highly respected: his selfishness is the key to his charity. All interviews are incredibly moving, not just because almost all involve tears, but because I felt that interviewees had nothing else to reveal and what they did reveal was utterly sincere. This docu-drama uses actual police footage of the crime scenes which, when accompanied by an austere soundtrack, gives the film a sombre, eerie tone. There's no doubt about it: the crimes were heinous. Both Perry and Burkett blamed each other. Both denied involvement. What's clear is that the crimes were unprovoked and victims perished needlessly. (We're led to believe that people were murdered for the sake of a red sports car.) Although Herzog states unequivocally that he is anti-capital punishment, he never proselytises; he produces an equal account of the merits and pitfalls of state-sponsored execution and, like any objective filmmaker, allows his audience the final say.
For instance, in the very opening scene in a conversation with Michael Perry, the death row inmate that the film is centered around, Herzog doesn't even get two questions in before launching into a diatribe against capital punishment.
During subsequent interviews he manages to not only throw in some jokes with his subjects, but he easily gets off on tangents about tattoos and relationships. Again, I don't mind him having a light-hearted conversations once in a while, but what the hell is this doing in the final film? It adds nothing to the story.
Herzog's patented profundity pervades every scene as well. The passionate music pumps through the speakers while the viewer gets treated to an agonizing amount of crime scene footage. His camera lingers on a subject in silence for a bit too long, as if he were hoping to capture something spontaneous, but to no avail.
It isn't all bad. Especially during the final act when he gets into the protocols of administering the death penalty. It seems to be the only time he let's the material speak for itself. Which is a shame because I felt he had the makings of a great film. Unfortunately, I too often found myself thinking, "What the hell is Herzog doing?"
To Herzog, nobody should be executed by the state, even Perry who ten years later is on death row while Burkett serves a life sentence and is eligible for parole in 2041. Herzog tells Perry that while he respects him for what he is going through, he also hates him for what he has done. While Perry had possibly a more stable home life, Burkett's father was in and out of jail when he was growing up, now in for a life sentence. It is implied that this led to Burkett's downfall. Ironically, it is Burkett's father who saved his son's life with an emotional speech at the trial.
They are not the only people Herzog talks to. While also steering clear of experts, he interviews family of the victims, pointing out how utterly senseless both the murder and execution are, with the execution being more sterile. And there is an interview with a former guard captain who presided over sometimes two executions in a week who could no longer go on with his job and still suffers from those memories. In the end, Herzog returns to a graveyard, full of anonymous convicts whose bodies were never claimed by family.
The film is often compelling in many of these interviews, with the execution guard testimony being unforgettable. The problem with the documentary, however, is that it simply felt too detached. Herzog's the king of long camera takes, but he indulges that too much here. The story is told, but in too cold of a way, and often confusing. The film itself was also a bit slow, meandering too much after appearing to make a point. In this way, it wasn't always as engaging as Herzog's other efforts, often feeling more tedious than interesting.
Still, it has a lot of interesting things to say, and is worth a watch for any interested in the subject.