Star rating – 8/10
German director Werner Herzog has created an amazingly insightful and compelling case against capital punishment in his documentary Into the Abyss, just released on DVD. But this is no Michael Moore hit you over the head with the argument type of film, although there is sometimes a place for that style of filmmaking too.
Herzog focuses on the triple murder of three people in Texas a decade ago, and the two men who were convicted of the murders, one of whom is on death row awaiting execution. His film is a series of interviews with those whose lives have been changed by the events of that single night, some of whom will never recover from the shock waves.
The young men who were convicted of the crimes were little more than boys at the time, although Herzog is not offering up excuses. They were convicted of killing a woman to steal her expensive car, and later returning to the scene and killing two boys, one of whom was her son, to claim their prize. The boys were under the influence of drink and drugs at the time, and cannot be said to have had the best starts in life. One of them protests his innocence to the end.
Herzog interviews the victims’ and alleged perpetrators’ families; police officers; Death Row guards and the young men themselves. He does so with tremendous respect and skill, getting them to reveal intimate details and raw emotions which are riveting and heartbreaking.
This is a very bleak watch indeed. But still, essential viewing for anyone who believes that capital punishment has a place in a so-called civilised society.