Into The Abyss (2012)
Werner Herzog never makes 'easy' viewing. Most of his work is uncomfortable and in this case you need to add 'incendiary'. He likes to make a statement and here, to such an extent, you feel he is bandstanding. Thusly, I am going to review this in the same tone as the film hoped to come across; lucid, considered and serious.
The over-riding message that kept returning to me when watching the film was that I was glad that we don't have the right to bear arms in the United Kingdom. I am grateful that this freedom is not available to us. The truth of the matter is that the percentage of people that should not be allowed to breed is as high here as in Smallville, USA, but we don't don't let them buy guns in our Wal-Marts.
Herzog dreams of uncovering some unjust misjudgement but there isn't anything here that will help him. At the very beginning of the film, he makes his own feelings clear to Michael Perry about the death penalty, despite the fact that he may not like the man himself, suggesting that although he may be guilty of the crimes for which he has been waiting for death in prison for ten years, he doesn't deserve death, despite the fact that he doesn't have to like him. A rather obvious statement which you feel he would only utter given the bullet proof glass between the two of them.
Firstly, the film is touted with the ticket-buying catnip of interviewing a man, in depth, on the verge of being sent to meet his maker for his crimes. Instead, the film spends eighty percent of its time telling us the story of how Perry got behind the bars, and the effect his actions had on the people that Herzog subsequently interviews. What transpires from these interviews is not what the American tourist board wants you to see. The people that end up in front of the camera are hideous and frightful. And most of these are the relatives of the victims or acquaintances of the guilty. To eyes that do not have to live the lives that are presented here, this is dreadful stuff. Herzog starts out trying to convince his audience that the death penalty is unjust, but from all of the interviews and testimony of the people interviewed, the echoing reaction seems to be one of relief that there is final closure from the threat of those that would do you or your loved ones harm.
From a distant and unemotional perspective, you have to ask if this is what people are capable of in life, then is there really a case against the death penalty to argue, because truly, some of these people are not worthy of the life they are lucky enough to have. There is a very coherent argument against the death penalty, but you have to ask if you knew these people were going to kill someone and the only way you could stop them from doing so was to end their life, is that not reason enough? Herzog shows us the very worst that he is able and each new revelation is more shocking than the last, culminating with an unfortunately chilling vision of the future.
Herzog completely fails in his attempt here to bring a sense of injustice to the lethal injections of white-trash Americans. He glories in his story-telling at the cost of his own victims who have been put in the firing line of his camera, a lascivious drawing out of the unsavoury with no satisfactory resolution. This is not as uncomfortable as it should have been, not searching enough, not telling enough. Herzog has sold his story cheaply for the sake of entertainment and glossed over what should have been an opportunity to educate, not titillate. Disappointing.