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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mr Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
Mr Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
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Review by Jeremy Kleinman | posted June 3, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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It goes without saying that this is not a movie for everybody. This film is a documentary of a man who worked to make sure that Electric Chairs were more dependable in executions. This leads him to jobs designing gallows for hanging and a lethal injection system. Becoming a bit of an expert on executions, Leuchter is asked to participate in a Canadian trial of a Holocaust denier.

The film invites the viewer to get to know Leuchter, an invitation, not everybody might wish to accept. The film was made by Errol Morris, an extremely talented documentarian known for making films about unconventional subjects, as he did with "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control." Here, he gets Leuchter's testimonials about his beginnings in the industry and has a good amount of footage to support the narrative. He then follows Leuchter to Poland where Leuchter does his own research on the gas chambers of Auschwitz to attempt to find out whether they were, as argued by the man on trial, merely the subject of propoganda. While a viewer may not know how he or she should feel watching this, it definitely evokes strong feelings.

In the film's third act, as it were, Morris shows the aftereffects on Luechter's life and how he deals with them. Morris, manages to stay impartial throughout and allows the viewer to come to his own conclusions about Luechter. Morris employs highly stylized techniques in the film, including pauses of black screen which, while likely added for dramatic effect or to give the film a beat, I found largely distracting. The film garnered tremendous critical acclaim for its boldness and its comprehensiveness in dealing with such a difficult subject matter. While I definitely cannot say that I actually "enjoyed" the film, I found myself seriously thinking about it days after seeing it, an effect that few movies seem to have on me. As I stated above, this film is not for everybody. From the film's subject matter, one should be able to determine whether they want to spend an hour and a half getting to know this deeply disturbing man. While a troubling film, this is also a well made one, and any fan of Errol Morris would not be disappointed by his work in putting together this movie.

The Picture: For a documentary, the picture was surprisingly good. Offered in widescreen anamorphic, the picture is quite clear, and the only graininess comes from some of the video images used in the film. Even most of the film taken in Poland is quite crisp and clear.

The Sound: Offered in 5.1 Dolby Digital, the sound on the film is quite good. This is not a film which requires great sound, but the sound is equally clear and the voices, particularly of Leuchter and those other individuals who were interviewed for the film come through without any problems.

The Extras: As one might expect from a documentary, the extra materials are relatively sparse. The film's trailer is included, but little else. While a director's commentary would have been enjoyable, the fact that Morris keeps his views on Leuchter somewhat veiled improves the film. I would have liked to see some of the footage which did not make it into the film, but that may have been a difficult thing to include, particularly because of the amount of footage that likely exists. While this is a well made documentary and a thought-provoking and disturbing film, I would not choose to see it a second time. One opportunity to get to know Mr. Death was enough for me and as a result, I would recommend merely renting this film. Especially, if you find yourself tired of the traditional summer movie fare, few other films would offer such a contrast.

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