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Another hypnotic tale from the great Werner Herzog
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is a complex, hypnotic drama starring Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, and Chloe Sevigny. The film starts with homicide detective Havenhurst (Dafoe), and his partner Detective Vargas (Michael Peña) being called in to investigate a recent murder. After scanning the scene for the basic details, Dafoe and Peña are made aware that the main suspect, Brad McCullum (Shannon) is across the street. After making contact with McCullum, the situation turns hostile when McCullum declares that he has two hostages.
To help facilitate the process of capturing McCullum, two close relations are interviewed. His fiancée Ingrid (Sevigny) and his former theatre director and close friend Lee Meyers (Udo Kier). Each person gives their own history about McCullum to Havenhurst in order to try and figure out what would make him kill this woman. The most disturbing park, aside from slaying the woman with a sword, is that the woman is also his mother.
The stage is set for Herzog to investigate the psyche of an intelligent, deranged man. The film is based on a true story where an actor who was performing in a Ancient Greek play about a man who kills his mother to avenge his father's death, does just that and kills his own mother. Herzog and fellow screenwriter Herbert Golder interviewed the actual man in an attempt to try and tell this remarkable story accurately. At the screening of the film, Golder said that the man was highly intelligent. I can't imagine what would posses someone to do this hideous act, but this movie tries to put together some sort of rationale as to what would lead a person to do this.
I thought that Shannon's character would be the most interesting, but after thinking it over I found that the other people in his life were even more peculiar. How could they put up with his radical behavior and outlandish thinking? Ingrid says that two years prior Brad embarked on a rafting trip to the Amazon with some of his friends. He was the only one who survived. After he returned Ingrid said he was different. Very different.
Why did she stay with him for so long when clearly he was mentally unstable? Why did Meyers, the director of the Greek play, put up with him that long? These people are more intriguing than a man who clearly is not all there in the head for one reason or another. I had a hard time getting past these questions.
What helped was the entrancing camera work and film composition that Herzog put together along with cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger. The slow tracking shots along with eye popping sets and locations create this feeling of foreboding. The eerie score composed by Ernst Reijseger, whose score is heard almost entirely throughout, gives the film a much needed boost by ingering in the background.
Shannon might have been a little over the top or under the top. It's hard to describe. He played it kind of flat but to a point where it was a bit much. I think he is really stepping into his own as a serious actor and roles like this are good for him. Very brooding and psychologically complex. The rest of the cast does a decent job, but nothing too dramatic, with the exception of Brad Dourif in the small role of Shannon' uncle. He plays a fiery ostrich farmer who does not approve of the lifestyle his nephew has chosen.
There is always something to like about Herzog's movies and sometimes there are things I very much dislike. I think this one needed a little more boost in the action to keep the audience fully interested, but there is still something here to take away.
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