Although, perhaps too obvious a subject for a documentary, Fred Leuchter is still an interesting one. Anyone would think to make a documentary film about a man who engineers the machines which carry out sentences of capital punishment, but that doesn't mean they would know how to execute it.
The first act is all rather mundane, but here that's a good thing. Instead of a politicized condemnation or exaltation of the death penalty, Morris opts for an intriguing and low key character study. Perhaps the number of cups of coffee someone drinks in a day, or the amount of cigarettes they smoke, may not seem like the most intimate or even remotely interesting aspects of someone's life, but they really are quite effective in defining the character. Through the use of reenactments, love them or hate them, these trivialities work to flesh out the character in exactly the way Morris wants him to be.
This manipulation, which is nearly impossible to avoid in any medium of storytelling, becomes much more obvious in the second and third acts. When Mr. Leuchter begins to question the authenticity of what we have been told about the Holocaust it becomes much more clear what Morris is trying to do. Surreptitiously introducing those who present their support for Mr. Leuchter as, "Historical Revisionists", and those who disagree with him plainly as historians, is a rather conniving way to discredit someone.
I applaud the film for treating this character, that many people vehemently oppose, sympathetically, although the cynic in me might confuse this sympathy with pity. And I appreciate its attempts to avoid emotion filled rhetoric. However I can not fully endorse anything which supports, even in such a subdued manner, such a dangerous way of thinking. Fred Leuchter, at least as he is presented to us in the film, does not seem to be anti-semitic, he has not decided that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz to spite those murdered during the Holocaust. He has come to this conclusion as a result of his own research. We must not as a society assault the search for truth with emotional lobbying and bitter ad hominem attacks simply because it doesn't conform with what is considered morally acceptable at the time. That there almost certainly were gas chambers at Auschwitz is irrelevant, social acceptability must not be a requisite of truth.
That being said, Mr. Death is still a well told story, just one that may have been consumed by something bigger than itself.