Conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime serve as an examination of why people - and the state - kill.Conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime serve as an examination of why people - and the state - kill.Conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime serve as an examination of why people - and the state - kill.
Herzog concentrates on just one case, which is more than enough to make his points. Although he doesn't appear on screen, Herzog's voice is important. He dons the role of interviewer, which I believe contributes to the film's power. He asks very precise questions, persists when necessary, but does so in a very innocent, nonchalant way, sometimes even cracking a joke with his subject, who is usually an emotional wreck. And why not? They give more of themselves to someone who they feel is on their side, and we get an insight that is much more accurate than it otherwise could have been.
Michael Perry was a boy when he was convicted of killing a nurse and suspected of killing two youths in 2001. The state of Texas executed him eight days after the film's release. His accomplice to the latter murders, Jason Burkett, received a life sentence. These and other relevant people, such as family members and prison officials, are interviewed to gain a broad range of views on what has always been a difficult political and moral topic.
Documentaries tend to stand back from their topics; Herzog gets right up under their nose. At times I felt he was oblivious to his audience, as though trying to satisfy his own curiosity. And that's why he has always been highly respected: his selfishness is the key to his charity.
All interviews are incredibly moving, not just because almost all involve tears, but because I felt that interviewees had nothing else to reveal and what they did reveal was utterly sincere. This docu-drama uses actual police footage of the crime scenes which, when accompanied by an austere soundtrack, gives the film a sombre, eerie tone.
There's no doubt about it: the crimes were heinous. Both Perry and Burkett blamed each other. Both denied involvement. What's clear is that the crimes were unprovoked and victims perished needlessly. (We're led to believe that people were murdered for the sake of a red sports car.)
Although Herzog states unequivocally that he is anti-capital punishment ('I don't think human beings should be executed. Simple as that'), he never proselytises. He produces an equal account of the merits and pitfalls of state-sponsored execution and, like any objective filmmaker, allows his audience the final say.
- Jun 7, 2012