Magazine article Screen International

Into the Abyss

Magazine article Screen International

Into the Abyss

Article excerpt

Dir: Werner Herzog. US. 2011. 106mins

The capital punishment debate excites heated passion on both sides of the argument. Into The Abyss by contrast is distinguished by a sense of measured, levelheaded compassion as director Werner Herzog explores the human cost of crime and its consequences. The result is a poignant, lyrical documentary that ranks among the director's finest and leaves the viewer with plenty to reflect upon and digest.

Herzog draws no clear-cut conclusions. That is the power and the profundity of his film.

A traditional talking heads approach might ordinarily have limited the film to a non-theatrical future but the subject matter and Herzog's assured handling should ensure theatrical viability in all the territories that have welcomed his recent run of documentary work from Grizzly Man to Cave Of Forgotten Dreams.

Herzog's own position in the capital punishment debate is clear. He believes that it is wrong to take a human life. It is not an agenda that he forces upon the viewer. Instead, he lets the issues find a voice in the stories of a wide range of individuals touched by a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas in 2000 that led to the convictions of teenagers Michael Perry and Jason Burkett.

Herzog approaches the case with a forensic thoroughness that suggests a cinematic equivalent of Truman Capote's masterwork In Cold Blood. His interest is much less in the grisly details of what happened and more in the legacy it left for the families of the victims, the convicted killers themselves and their loved ones.

Baby-faced Perry is on Death Row and just eight days away from his execution date of July 1st, 2010 when Herzog interviews him. He tells Perry that he may not necessarily like him but he will respect his humanity. It could be the guiding philosophy of the film.

Everyone interviewed is treated with dignity. Herzog is scrupulously honest with his subjects and never less than well mannered in his gentle, insistent probing. He neither judges nor ridicules but allows them the luxury of being heard in their own words and their own time. The film still has a taste of the idiosyncratic flavour one might expect from Herzog (there is even a mention of alligators) but more often than not he concentrates purely on the facts and the stark emotions. …

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