Werner Herzog gave us the interesting (but long) documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams earlier this year. He did the interesting documentary Grizzly Man years ago.I enjoyed them more than his regular feature films, which usually have great scenes but are always disappointing (although it was nice to see San Diego in My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?).
Let’s start with the title. Herzog said it’s “a gaze into the abyss of the human soul.”
Okay, but…James Cameron did two Abyss movies. My step-dad starred in one (Ghosts of the Abyss), and his other was The Abyss. So I say Cameron had dibs on the word “Abyss” for movie titles. And besides…”Living the Dash” would’ve been a better title. That will make more sense if you see this, and listen to the prison guard on death row who quit after 125 executions. He worked as one of the guys that straps down a leg in quick fashion before the injection. Yes folks, there’s some powerful stuff in this.
It deals with a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas, all for a bitchin’ Camaro three teenagers wanted to joyride in.
The 28-year-old on death row (he’s being interviewed a week before he’s executed) looks like he’s 15 (and acts like it, but I’m sure folks against the death penalty will have sympathy as they hear him BS).
Another inmate got 40 years to life. It helped that his dad, also serving a life sentence (side note: wonder if they get to enjoy turkey together on Thanksgiving), testified that he was a horrible father. It won over two jurors that he overheard crying. Must be horrible for the victims that are left, to hear him say the attorney told him “You got ‘em.” There’s something else you find out later in the movie that will also devastate the victims, but I won’t spoil that.
Although Herzog states he’s against the death penalty, I give him credit for doing the same thing liberals Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins did with their film Dead Man Walking. They showed the viciousness of the crimes (right up to the end). Nobody sugarcoats how horrible this all was, and that if anybody deserved the death penalty, it was these folks.
One of the problems I had was that this wasn’t different from a Dateline or 20/20 episode. Now the documentary Crime After Crime, which also came out this year, was much more powerful and interesting.
I wondered why, if both the criminals in this claimed their innocence (the third died during a shootout with police), why didn’t Herzog ask them their side of the story?
I also wondered why Herzog didn’t delve more into it with the death row inmate. We basically hear him BS us on the crime, and we hear him tell us why he’s at peace with the outcome of what will happen (it’s Texas, so it’s not like the viewer is wondering if he’ll get that call from the governor).
We get to see a heart-wrenching interview with a sister of the victims. We see an interview with a woman that married one of these scumbags, yet we don’t get to know enough about her motivation behind it all. Herzog talks about “groupies,” but they don’t talk enough about that. And that’s the thing everybody will want to know. We couldn’t care less about the rainbow she saw outside the prison on the day she went to visit him. We want to know if her friends tried knocking some sense into her, why she’d marry somebody that will never get out of prison, etc.
Herzog doesn’t get preachy, he just comes across as passionate. The documentary is a bit uneven, and nobody watching it will change their views on how they feel about the death penalty (whether they’re for or against it).
For a documentarian that gets the praise Herzog gets, I can say this is yet another film of his that leaves me disappointed.
It gets 2 ½ out of 5 stars.