Documentary 'Into the Abyss' questions captial punishment

2011-11-23T00:00:00Z 2011-11-23T17:45:49Z Documentary 'Into the Abyss' questions captial punishmentBY CALVIN WILSON • calvinwilson@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8346 stltoday.com

Is lethal injection ever justified? Condemned to death as punishment for a triple homicide, the boyish Michael Perry has had plenty of time to ponder that question.

Perry seems eager to talk, but whether he's genuinely remorseful or playing for sympathy is hard to gauge. With the full force of Texas justice due to come down on him, he certainly has nothing to lose. What's truly disturbing, considering his situation, is his goofy demeanor.

Jason Burkett, who's serving a 40-year sentence for the killings, is anything but lighthearted. Resigned to the long years ahead of him, Burkett is perhaps grateful that — as bad as things can be behind bars — he'll still be alive.

Perhaps life in the Texas town of Conroe was just so boring that Perry and Burkett thought their plan to steal a red Camaro was a good idea. But it went horribly wrong.

One of the best documentaries of the year, "Into the Abyss" looks at a horrible crime and its aftermath with an insight that's often lacking in such accounts. Directed by Werner Herzog ("Cave of Forgotten Dreams"), the film is at once a crime story, a jailhouse romance and a critique of the American criminal justice system. At its heart is the question of whether killing, under any circumstances, is morally acceptable.

Herzog, who interviews his subjects off-camera, seems mystified as to how a person could be murdered over the theft of an automobile. And the audience is encouraged to reflect on the arbitrariness of life as we meet some of the people forced to live with the convicts' choices — including Burkett's pregnant wife Melyssa, whose belief in him is absolute.

"Into the Abyss" makes a strong case for the inhumanity of capital punishment, regardless of the crime or the criminal.

 


'Into the Abyss'

Four stars (out of four) • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1:45 • Content Mature thematic material and some disturbing images

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