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Into the Abyss 

A tranquil and poignant documentary about the life, crimes and eventual state execution of a young Texas man

click to enlarge Report from death row: Michael Perry
  • Report from death row: Michael Perry

For decades, Werner Herzog has wondered aloud about why people do odd, extreme or dangerous things -- and in his quest, he sometimes lurches to the edge of the precipice himself. But he plays it safe with Into the Abyss, his tranquil and poignant documentary about the life and crimes of Michael Perry, who died by lethal injection in Texas last year for his role in three murders. Herzog, as usual his film's interlocutor, asks his willing subjects -- Perry, the police, the families and the preacher who shepherded Perry to glory -- to reflect on what it's like to be part of something like this, and on why people (including the state) kill. Their answers are familiar, but that doesn't make Into the Abyss any less fascinating. It all takes place in that unmentionable culture of guns and religion, where the locals have limited resources (economic, emotional, intellectual), and where Jesus would certainly not approve of executions ... even though, one believer tells us, "some people just deserve to die." If Herzog has grown mellow and conventional, it's only to be as clear as possible about such important things. His humanity sees no villains, but it also will not pardon murder, even in the name of justice. Starts Fri., Dec. 2. Harris

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