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Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life

April 28, 2012

Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) is a wonderful documentarian. He has the ability to polarize the masses like nobody else. I find his high brow German narration to be a soothing force of intelligence and pretension.

Into the Abyss features a laid back Herzog who simply films his subjects and asks intelligent questions meant to inspire conversation. The doc focuses on two men who committed a triple murder in Texas. Michael Perry is on death row and Jason Burkett is serving life in prison. The horrible murder happened because they wanted to drive a red Camaro.

Herzog lets the interviews flow and allows the viewer to make up their own minds about capital punishment. It is clear that Werner is against the death penalty. However, he lets the prisoners, priests, police, families and murder groupies speak. He asks tough questions but they are meant to establish a commentary of why these two men committed such evil.

Some of the most powerful moments feature Burkett’s father discussing his sons terrible upbringing. Delbert Burkett is the sole reason that his son did not get the death penalty. His moving testimonial saved his son and is surprisingly eloquent for a career criminal/drug addict.

What I love about this doc is that Herzog became curious about the case and took a small camera crew to film the interviews. He filmed each person only once. Each interview feels organic and not staged. This documentary is a stark contrast to the beautiful vistas of Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Encounters at the End of the World. Those docs featured wonderful vistas and eccentric characters. Into the Abyss is simple, inquisitive and mesmerizing.

Herzog is not searching for facts because it is clear that these two men are guilty. This is a documentary that is curious to learn more about the situation. Herzog never comes to a big sweeping realization. He only lets people say what they have to say. Some say more. Some say less. He doesn’t dig but we understand more about these characters by how much they share.

Watch this documentary. Learn that less is more in Herzog land. He captures a wonderful dialogue that is rarely accomplished in much grander cinematic works.

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