Movie review: “Into the Abyss”

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From the February 23, 2012 edition

If I could have a drink with any living film director, I’d pick Werner Herzog. I’m not even sure who would come in second.

“Fly on the wall” isn’t Herzog’s documentary style. Whether through narration or off-screen questions in that unmistakable German accent, his perspective is fiercely present. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Herzog’s latest doc, “Into the Abyss,” focuses on a Texas triple homicide that left Michael Perry on death row.

Herzog interviews Perry (just eight days before the state intends to end his life), his accomplice Jason Burkett, victims’ family members and others affected.

“Abyss” is aptly subtitled “A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life.” Herzog meditates on capital punishment in a way that is fascinating and challenging, although he makes his personal objection clear early in the film.

He has the same vigor in exploring the crimes, a series of murders of nearly unfathomable senselessness motivated by car theft for a teenage joyride.

There are no bad TV news show reenactments here, just some searing interviews and haunting crime scene footage.

Herzog lingers on many of the interviewees, showing moments of pensiveness that are heart-wrenching.

Open-ended questions and lack of traditional narrative may turn some off. I’m Team Werner.