But more generally, he's looking at the use of the death penalty in the United States.
The only developed nation still executing its own citizens, America's history with capital punishment is baffling to Herzog, who looks into one case to try and understand the cultural mindset. After a ghastly 2001 triple murder in Texas, the 18-year-old cohorts were convicted in separate trials: Michael Perry was sentenced to death, while Jason Burkett received 40 years. Both talk extensively on camera to Herzog, who also interviews family members of the victims and locals from the town of Conroe.
What emerges is a detailed picture of how this crime has affected a variety of people, and not one problem is solved by executing Perry in July 2010. Typical for Herzog, he finds telling angles on the story by asking deceivingly simple questions. The conversation with Melyssa Burkett, who married Jason in prison, is given a twist from the first shot, which has a highchair in the background.
Sure enough, she's pregnant, but is cagey about how that happened when she's not allowed conjugal visits with her husband.
By contrast, the most telling interview is with Fred Allen, who ran Texas' Huntsville Death House through the execution-filled Bush years, then had a crisis of conscience. And then there's Delbert Burkett's moving interview: he's also behind bars and realises that his example probably let to his son's derailed life. Mixed with painfully honest comments from victims families and the killers themselves, the film takes on a tone that thoroughly disarms our expectations.
Herzog never drums up sympathy for the criminals; he reserves that for the victims' family members. Indeed, watching Perry and Burkett turn on each other is ugly. But the question is whether a civilised society should be killing its citizens. Throughout the film, Herzog quietly observes facts and emotions that challenge an-eye-for-an-eye justice, noting that Jesus rejected this kind of Old Testament principle, and yet it's America's religious right who staunchly support executions. This is one of those films that gets deeply under your skin, and without ever preaching makes you examine your prejudices and perhaps change the way you think.
Run time: 107 mins
In Theaters: Friday 30th March 2012
Box Office USA: $0.2M
Distributed by: IFC Films
Production compaines: Creative Differences
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 93 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Werner Herzog
Producer: Werner Herzog
Screenwriter: Werner Herzog
Starring: Jason Burkett as Himself, Werner Herzog as Himself, Michael Perry as Himself, Jeremy Richardson as Himself, Kristen Willis as Herself