I’m not really fond of evaluating films based on political questions, religious beliefs or social values so with Into the Abyss my review will be short and sweet. The film puts the capital punishment question of shall we put a murderer to death even if we know he did the killing? What gets left out of the film however is the alternative; shall we torture the person the rest of his life by keeping him alive in a prison cell? Although Director Werner Herzog claims the film is not about the death penalty, he lets his audience be the judge.
The film centers on Michael James Perry a convicted killer of 50-year-old Sara Stotler in 2001. Perry was sentenced to death in 2003, appealed the conviction and lost. He was put to death by lethal injection in 2010. Perry did not act alone in the murderous romp that ended with the additional deaths of Stotler’s brother Adam and his friend Jeremy Richardson both 18. An accomplice Jason Burkett took part in the murders by killing the two 18-year-olds and was sentenced to life in prison.
Director Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn) tries to dissect the crime and punishment of Perry through Into the Abyss interviewing James Perry, several people connected with the trial, parent of Sara Stotler, relatives of Burkett and others. To emphasize his point that no state should take a life, he interviews an executioner who provides his opinion based on his length of service and participation.
There is no positive resolve brought out in the film, only a message that the death penalty should be questioned. Beyond that, the documentary provides an interesting look at the killers, yet evades the real issue, the death of three innocent people.
There have been many films about death row inmates, their trials and executions some based on true events and others a work of fiction. This one didn’t impress me more than something shown on True-TV or Court TV.
Final Analysis: Interviewing 11 people on such a hot topic doesn’t work here, even if it includes the killer himself. (D)
Werner Herzog, Toronto, CA, September 10, 2011- The following is an excerpt from statements made to the Los Angeles Times concerning his film Into the Abyss. Herzog is adamant that his film is “not a film about capital punishment.” Even as he attempted to understand his subjects, he was personally unwavering in his opposition to the death penalty.
“This is not an issue film; it’s not an activist film against capital punishment, because the film has only partially to do with someone on death row.” “It’s very much about the whole environment. Families of victims of violent crime are equally important.”
“For me it has been a decision of principle,” he said. “I’m German and of the first post-war generation and in a way still feeling the barbarism of the Nazi regime: capital punishment, euthanasia and the genocide of 6 million people. So it’s clear that I cannot be on the side of capital punishment.”