Directed by: Werner Herzog
Produced by: Dave Harding
Screenplay by: Werner Herzog
Narrated by: Werner Herzog
Music by: Mark Degli Antoni
Cinematography by: Peter Zeitlinger
Editing by: Joe Bini
Studio(s): Investigation Discovery
Werner Herzog Filmproduktion
Distributed by: IFC Films
Release date(s): September 8, 2011 (TIFF)
November 11, 2011 (United States)
March 30, 2012 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 105 minutes
Country(s): United States
Box office revenue: $223, 880
Aloha, I'm back from my yearly break. They keep seeming to get longer. That said, I've been building up a lot more sources by which to view a film to review, so even if the break has been longer, ultimately I'm getting more work done. On a digression, Blogger's new posting interface is causing me to have to get my bearing, which is putting it lightly. I feel like I've got sea legs just looking at this browser! Anywho, I have been busy, and following this review will be ones for Men In Black 3, The Angels' Share, Prometheus, Dark Shadows and many more, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!
Right, in appropriate fashion, given that Cave Of Forgotten Dreams was my first reviewed movie of 2011, Werner Herzog's latest film Into The Abyss is my first (technically second) movie for review in 2012. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Herzog and consider him among the creme de la creme of filmmaking. Interestingly, though he has always been a prolific worker in both fact and fiction, Herzog has become one of the most internationally respected documentarians, and is actively being offered projects now. He was given special permission by the French Minister of Culture to shoot in Chauvet Cave, and is now filming work for Discovery Communications. The same project for which he filmed the television series On Death Row has produced this feature, Into The Abyss. Herzog has for many years wished to make a film exploring the moral implications of capital punishment.
With a title like Into The Abyss, subtitled with 'A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life,' most other filmmakers would end up coming out with the most pretentious piece of work ever. However, Herzog is one of the most engaging of documentarians. Whenever you see one of his films, it is like a Morgan Spurlock or a Michael Moore picture, with the 'documentarian as character' trope imposed in their films. Herzog though as an interviewer takes his subjects into challenging territory. Asking a pastor, "Please describe an encounter with a squirrel?" might seem a bit left-of-field, and it is funny to hear him say this, but it forces him to ponder the meaning of life. Also, his approach, which is one of direct honesty and absurdism, is terrifically well-balanced. Documentary film has certain sociological implications, and this is sensitive subject matter. Herzog displays sublime tact and never crosses into over-imposition. He lets his subjects play out their story on their terms, as opposed to forcing it out of them. It makes for a far more fascinating story. Furthermore, as a piece of investigative journalism, Into The Abyss is up there with The Thin Blue Line. Gathering together a variety of sources, it questions both the crime and the nature of crime itself. 'Who is responsible for the crime? What is responsible for those responsible for the crime?' Also, through the one case study of Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, we are able to get to grips with many different perspectives on the case. Joe Bini's editing is sharp and precise, ensuring that the film doesn't digress. It is also nice to see a documentary that doesn't have the popular multi-modal method of cartoons and photoshop designs popping up at me constantly. I admire films like Catfish, but the multi-modal method in many documentaries feels like they're trying to convince me of their argument by way of bombardment. Finally, Mark De Gli Antoni minimalist score is very good. The use of recurring motifs and the nuts-and-bolts feel of the score has an essence of purity. It is chilling and ethereal, the bare-bones nature complementing the subject, and letting the audience decide for themselves what their opinion is.
That said, much as I loved Into The Abyss, there are a few little problems with it. I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't drag on a bit too long. I feel that much as there is to say on the topic of capital punishment, it could have been cut down by another ten minutes I reckon. At least it drags consistently, so it's not as bad! Also, as mentioned, that multimodality that is popular in documentaries of late is not present as much as others, but it is still there to a certain extent. I'm all right with some of the crime scene video footage, but things like the typewriter create a (small) layer of artificiality, a shame really, given how raw and poetic the film is.
Nonetheless, as a whole Into The Abyss is a great movie. As mentioned, in any other filmmakers hands this could have been highly pretentious, but in Herzog's it is a thoroughly engaging, honest study on capital punishment. Herzog has made his mind up, but has enough tact and wisdom to let his subjects and audiences make up their own minds. As such, Into The Abyss, while being 'A Werner Herzog Film,' carries a feeling of authentic objectivity about it. A thought-provoking, truthful and chillingly direct work from one of cinema's great masters.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzed (I'm working again! Woop woop!
P.S. The keyboard warriors of Rotten Tomatoes strike again. I disagree with Robbie Collin and James Berardinelli on this film, but just because they didn't like the film doesn't make them stupid or, as the 'eloquent' Sungho S. puts it "the worst critic among here." Every time I go on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB.com, I get more and more convinced of Armond White's arguments, problematic at times or not. If you're going to make a contrary argument have enough confidence and conviction to say something more than 'the critic is an idiot' bullshit!
P.P.S. I'm now putting trailers on my reviews. I don't watch them myself, but if people wish to do so whack away it!