In German director Werner Herzog’s second documentary this year, his characteristic weltschmerz returns in somber form. Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life is as moving an argument against the death penalty as any, though unlike Incendiary, another recent documentary about a Texas capital crime, there are no political bromides or pleas of innocence. In recounting three brutal—and stupid—murders committed by Michael Perry (shown) and Jason Burkett, Herzog shows the minds of killers, the grief of victims’ families, and the regrets of Burkett’s father, who like his son will spend the rest of his days behind bars. Perry—no relation to the Texan presidential candidate of the same name—is interviewed a week before he is executed. But in the end, perhaps the most sympathetic subject is Fred Allen, a mountainous former death row guard who now weeps over the time he spent with the condemned. It’s powerful stuff, and Herzog doesn’t let grandstanding get in the way.

The film shows all week at E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. $11. (202) 452-7672.