Werner Herzog is an incredible documentary filmmaker. And after recently finding out he directed Rescue Dawn which is one of my favourite films, has proven to be just as impressive in the realm of fiction.
But most recently, and in my opinion his best work to date, he’s directed feature-length documentary Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life and three-part TV series Death Row which together look at the lives of several inmates who at the time of filming where awaiting execution in the U.S.
This is by far one of the best documentaries I’ve seen, but with a morbid fascination with prison shows and true crime merged with the fact I’m possibly the biggest Werner Herzog fan it’s no wonder this is something I’m so fascinated by. If light-hearted comedy and easy watching is your thing then I’d give this a miss.
Each episode dedicated to one case or inmate on death row provokes debate about the death penalty. Is it right/ wrong? Why should anyone have the power to take a life? In one episode you’ll struggle to find reasons not to want the inmate dead, while in others it’s truly heart-breaking and seems unjust when they are. The episode about George Rivas was especially moving and had me in tears at the end. But either way, the decision is left with you, Herzog does little to influence the viewer, or encourage inmates he interviews to say what he wants, instead letting them tell their own story and describe these crimes in their own words. He doesn’t encourage a certain way of thinking and rarely states his own opinion, accept during the introduction to say the death penalty is something he doesn’t agree it. After that he remains impartial. The majority of the documentary is filmed from inside the prison in two one hour interviews with each inmate. We see little outside of this or from anyone other than Herzog and the individual inmates and with only a brief break down of the crimes given by Herzog alongside crime scene videos and photos.
There’s no glamorization of criminals here, only a painful truth which Herzog delivers with no-frills, no-bullshit. It’s a series that stays with you, its subject a talking point long after each episode finishes.
There’s no doubt Herzog is one of the finest filmmakers of the day if not ever and if you’re unfamiliar with his work this is definitely a good place to start.
9.5/10 (it loses half a point because the series was so short and I want more!!!!!)