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Documentary Review: 'Into the Abyss' -- 3 stars

Death-row inmate Michael Perry is the subject of

Death-row inmate Michael Perry is the subject of Werner Herzog’s latest doc. Credit: Death-row inmate Michael Perry is the subject of Werner Herzog’s latest doc.

Into the Abyss
Documentary by Werner Herzog
Rated PG-13

In "Into the Abyss," Werner Herzog trades ancient caves and grizzly men for a documentary subject that's far closer to home: the death penalty, as carried out in the United States.

His film offers a penetrating portrait that questions the value of capital punishment while reflecting, in classic Herzog form, on what the practice says about the corruption of human values.

It's not a one-sided harangue, though. Instead, Herzog offers a fair-minded study of the fallout from a 2001 triple homicide in Conroe, Texas, blending death-row testimony from 28-year-old convicted killer Michael Perry with the thoughts of his lesser-sentenced accomplice Jason Burkett, the victims' families, police and others.

If the movie isn't as transcendent as Herzog's best work - occasionally taking on the tenor of an in-depth news feature - it's blessed with sharp, candid subjects who are receptive to the filmmaker's tough questions. At the same time, the film demonstrates Herzog's unparalleled knack for drawing out the harmony and discord in nature.

Playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center

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