- By Jessica Kiang
- February 9, 2012 12:05 PM
- 2 Comments
The prologue of each of the four episodes of “Death Row” is the same: a restless camera prowls through the dismal ante-room, holding cell and injection chamber of an unnamed execution facility, while director Werner Herzog tells us in his familiar teutonic monotone that, as a German and a guest of the United States, he “respectfully disagree[s]” with the death penalty, legal in 34 states, and performed regularly in 16.
And so he sets out his stall up front. What's perhaps surprising, however, is that what he then delivers is neither polemical nor propagandistic in its approach; Herzog's storytelling instincts trump his didactic ones here, to compelling effect. Having already tackled this subject in his feature-length “Into The Abyss” (the central figure of which makes a fleeting appearance here in the "Joseph Garcia and George Rivas" section), it's clear that in exploring the stories of these condemned men and women, Herzog has found a rich vein to mine, and he brings to this latest endeavor, a four-part TV series for Investigation Discovery, an uncharacteristic restraint. His even-handedness serves the subject matter well, largely refuting any accusations of liberal whitewashing before they can even be made. What he delivers instead is a series of nuanced, meticulous and gripping portraits of several death row inmates, unflinchingly portrayed, mostly in their own words and those of the men and women who arrested, reported on, prosecuted and/or defended them.