Into the Abyss


Generally favorable reviews - based on 30 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 24 out of 30
  2. Negative: 1 out of 30
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  1. Reviewed by: Calvin Wilson
    Nov 23, 2011
    Into the Abyss makes a strong case for the inhumanity of capital punishment, regardless of the crime or the criminal.
  2. Reviewed by: Amy Biancolli
    Nov 10, 2011
    Herzog, as ever, is obsessed most of all with human nature: Into the Abyss explores our deepest urges to love, and live, and kill.
  3. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert
    Nov 9, 2011
    Into the Abyss may be the saddest film Werner Herzog has ever made. It regards a group of miserable lives, and in finding a few faint glimmers of hope only underlines the sadness.
  4. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Dec 3, 2011
    It gives ample play to all sides of the argument. Herzog allows us to think things through on our own.
  5. Reviewed by: Alison Willmore
    Nov 9, 2011
    Into the Abyss, which bears the subtitle "A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life," reveals itself to be an outlandish, compassionate and, at times, improbably buoyant film about life's capacity for grief and horror and about how it bubbles on miraculously in the face of such things. It's the best thing Herzog's done in years.
  6. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Dec 1, 2011
    The overriding point of Into the Abyss, what keeps this sad, sorrowful film from becoming depressing and elevates it far above the usual chatter of liberal-conservative debate, is that there can be light on the other end of even the darkest of tunnels.
  7. Reviewed by: Steven Rea
    Nov 17, 2011
    Into the Abyss is a true-crime drama, to be sure, but in Herzog's hands it becomes something much more: an inquiry into fundamental moral, philosophical, and religious issues, and an examination of humankind's capacity for violence - individual and institutional.
  8. Reviewed by: Kyle Smith
    Nov 11, 2011
    Werner Herzog looks at the death penalty in Into the Abyss, and as is almost always the case, to look through his eyes is to marvel.
  9. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Nov 10, 2011
    What Herzog almost accidentally captures in his viewfinder is profound and unsettling: an entire American underclass where at least some prison time is the norm and where only luck and the grace of God keep a person from either wrong end of the shotgun.
  10. Reviewed by: Bill Weber
    Nov 5, 2011
    Underlying the occasionally harrowing, consistently mournful tone is a philosophy that, more than being explicitly anti-capital punishment, puts both family ties and the social contract at the center of people's self-worth.
  11. Reviewed by: Scott Tobias
    Nov 9, 2011
    His film powerfully suggests that violent death of any kind, whether personal or state-mandated, transforms everyone in its vicinity.
  12. Reviewed by: Kevin Harley
    Mar 19, 2012
    Herzog's tapestry testifies to life's light from death's darkness. Its honest humanity and sideways-on character bare his illuminating imprint.
  13. Reviewed by: Philip Wilding
    Feb 20, 2012
    A haunting portrayal of people who are neither completely innocent nor wholly evil, and the terrible price of killing, whether in the pursuit of a sports car or in the name of justice.
  14. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott
    Nov 10, 2011
    Into the Abyss superficially resembles the kind of titillating, moralizing true-crime shockumentary that is a staple of off-hours cable television. But the grim ordinariness of the narrative makes its Dostoyevskian dimensions all the more arresting.
  15. Reviewed by: J.R. Jones
    Nov 10, 2011
    Herzog's wrenching interviews with the victims' relatives, may not turn anyone against capital punishment, but they're gripping nonetheless. Incidentally, the spiritual inquiry Herzog aims for here has already been rendered onscreen, in Steve James and Peter Gilbert's powerful documentary "At the Death House Door" (2008).
  16. Reviewed by: Michelle Orange
    Nov 8, 2011
    An egalitarian study of crime and punishment in a small Southern town, Into the Abyss is also an unmistakably Herzogian inquiry into the lawlessness of the human soul.
  17. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    Nov 8, 2011
    Into the Abyss is too self-admiring of its own loose ends to come to the indictment that would put it in the company of "The Thin Blue Line," but these personalities stay in your head - which is the whole point.
  18. Reviewed by: Peter Debruge
    Nov 7, 2011
    These days, true-crime docs are a dime a dozen, and yet, returning to the "In Cold Blood" analogy, Into the Abyss dares to plumb the dark hole in America's soul. Herzog's investigation may not work as an anti-death-penalty editorial, but its findings are undeniably profound.
  19. Reviewed by: Sheri Linden
    Nov 6, 2011
    But above all it's a portrait of stunned grief, of the devastation families endure, whether through violence, accidents, illness or incarceration.
  20. 75
    By Herzog's lofty standards, the result is mildly disappointing. The film lacks the sociological depth of "The Executioner's Song" or the emotional wallop of "In Cold Blood." But it sure is a surpassingly, and compellingly, strange tale.
  21. Reviewed by: Marc Mohan
    Nov 23, 2011
    This is more Errol Morris' or Truman Capote's territory than Herzog's, and his patient, determinedly respectful interviews with members of the American underclass bear a whiff of European condescension.
  22. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Nov 10, 2011
    The film is a river of pain, weirdly funny in places, as are all of Herzog's filmic essays.
  23. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Nov 10, 2011
    It provides intimate glimpses of people usually seen, and then only briefly, as faces on a post-office wall or numbers in a cemetery.
  24. Reviewed by: James Berardinelli
    Nov 16, 2011
    For a documentarian of Herzog's stature, Into the Abyss ranks as a disappointment.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 24 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 7 out of 9
  2. Negative: 1 out of 9
  1. May 4, 2012
    Excellent documentary from Herzog. But it is important to keep in mind that this isn't The Thin Blue Line, and instead of turning thisExcellent documentary from Herzog. But it is important to keep in mind that this isn't The Thin Blue Line, and instead of turning this documentary into some kind of television crime drama, Herzog simply explores the crime, and the minds of those involved and affected by it. Excellent documentary. Full Review »
  2. Apr 21, 2012
    Interesting and sad, but not very thorough. Is it just me, or does Herzog never challenge either of the convicted killers on their versionsInteresting and sad, but not very thorough. Is it just me, or does Herzog never challenge either of the convicted killers on their versions of the story, which is that they didn't kill these people? It feels like he avoided the issue and just let them tell their story, and let everyone else tell their story, and left it for us to figure out. But the big payoff that never occurs is that these two convicted murderers are never forced to face the ugly thing they did. If Herzog is taking the stance that they were innocent, then he should have pushed harder against the authorities. But he doesn't do that either. The effect is just a huge letdown of a movie, where we hear account after account of a needlessly brutal crime occurring, and being bragged about. And then we see the alleged perpetrators claim they didn't do it. The real question of this movie: 'why would they commit these terrible acts to steal a car?' - is never even posed to either of the two people convicted. This seems to me to be too laid back an approach for a story that begs for larger answers. Full Review »
  3. Nov 29, 2011
    I really did not get much why out of this film than I would from a television show. . Why did they kill? Stupid? Why death in one case andI really did not get much why out of this film than I would from a television show. . Why did they kill? Stupid? Why death in one case and life in the other? Money/jurors? Maybe it is all unexplainable. I did not think Herzog delved into any of it enough to offer a case or documentary with a passion. The most interesting part was the death row groupie but even there the ball was dropped. She was obviously as nutty as the murderers but why. Again, no real insight. Don't go out of your way to see it. Full Review »