Into the Abyss (12A)


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Werner Herzog, cinema's laureate of derangement, seems ideally equipped to investigate America's romance with the death penalty.

He examines it through the prism of a triple homicide in a Texas smalltown back in 2001. A pair of teenagers, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, killed a middle-aged woman and two young men for the sake of a car they wanted to steal. Perry got a death sentence, but Burkett's was commuted to life in prison after an extraordinary appeal for clemency from his jailed father. The story has all the Herzogian Gothic – madness, murder, the workings of fate – but the director just hasn't shaped them into any kind of coherent pattern. We gather his opposition to capital punishment, but in interviewing the perpetrators and the victims' family and friends he allows them to ramble instead of asking the hard questions: such as, what does Perry feel about Burkett escaping Death Row, and on what basis does he plead his innocence of the crime? (There is no doubt that he's guilty).

Later, interviewing the young woman Burkett married in prison, Herzog allows her to witter on, absurdly, about a rainbow she imagined had blessed their union. The best thing here is a Death Row executioner who renounced the system after a shocking epiphany, but it doesn't answer to anything else. Into the Abyss has no argumentative thrust, no purpose other than – here's some chaotic and violent lives I discovered, make of them what you will.