Leave it to Herzog to turn the debate about capital punishment on its head. Delving into the events of a brutal Texan homicide, he talks to the two men convicted of the crime, the families of the victims, and the law enforcement and legal personnel that arrested, convicted, and eventually put to death one of the participants.
Herzog remains as ever uncanny in his ability to elicit wonderfully intimate conversations from his subjects. Talking to one of the men just days before his death, we find a person at piece with his impending death, smiling through the fear and clinging to a newfound faith. The other person convicted was spared a death sentence (each man blames the other for the crime), and his story, and in turn the story of his long incarcerated father, perfectly frames the debate between life imprisonment and executions in crimes of this scope.
With a deft touch, Herzog gives us the facts, avoiding overuse of his usual voice-over interjections to let the participants do the majority of the heavy lifting. It’s a fascinating case from a purely visceral point of view, and the telling of it is done with great dexterity. Throughout, however, the film delicately raises the subject of the morality of the state killing one who has killed. While Herzog doesn’t hide his perspective on the matter, when we hear from the officer who has retired from his role as the last person in charge at the security block we realize there’s a lot more going on in the debate than simple knee-jerk political points of view.
Beautifully told and crafted, INTO THE ABYSS is another masterstroke from the acclaimed filmmaker, philosophically rich with an exceptionally compelling narrative.