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The police are called to a murder scene and quickly discover that the murderer, the victim's son, is holed up in his house with two hostages. Through a series of interviews with both the murderer's fiancée and his theatre director the police piece together a picture of a man losing touch with reality. Written by
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Difficult, fragmented, bewildering which is the point I guess, but it could have done that and worked at the same time
Based on a true story where a young man with mental illness is involved in an old play about a man who kills his mother, who then kills his mother. The police are called and the man holds up in his house with two hostages while the police surround and try to begin negotiations. At this point the film appears like it will focus on this but instead we get a story constructed of flashbacks which mostly come from the perspective of Brad while also get nothing from him in the present. The flashbacks involve some that appear relevant (his experiences in Peru, his involvement in the play) and others than have no context (Brad wandering round China). The police action and interviews outside the house form the structure for all this but while in another version they would be the "all", here they seem to exist almost like a necessary evil.
I say this because the film seems much more interested in the flashbacks and in particular using them as a tool to bewilder, set a very strange tone and generally make the viewer feel on-edge. It does this very well and even stories which seem relevant are given a weird tone. This matches most interaction with Brad in the film, he is intense, makes no sense and his anger is often as sudden and unjustified as the moments that give him peace. I guess that the goal was to replicate the inside of his mind, of the delusions and the feelings that within himself make perfect sense but to everyone else is either bewildering or frightening or a combination thereof. If this is the goal then it is achieved and the only remaining problem is that achieving this goal is not the same as making the film work – perhaps it could have been but in this case it is not.
The structure doesn't allow us to experience Brad's mind, if anything it puts us in the minds of the police who have shown up from the outside. As such we think we know the score (because we have seen this genre like they have done this job) but yet what we then experience not only doesn't fit this expectation, but ultimately we are left none the wiser in terms of our understanding; the man and the crime remain an enigma with only the very obvious link to the play's themes being the "reason" (if there even is such a thing approaching that word). It is frustrating in this regard.
The delivery is mostly good but doesn't make it worth it. As director Herzog delivers lots of striking images and scenarios but I felt myself constantly pushed away by the heavy use of music – most of it caterwauling to my ears. It seemed to be trying to present a profundity that wasn't there (which I guess is how it appeared to Brad) but all it did was grate and alienate, because again I was already on the outside – the music just made the walls higher and the gates stronger. Shannon is great though – he has a marvelous intensity that he brings to each role and it is just a shame that the film doesn't help him much. He did a similar role recently in Take Shelter, where the film tried to bring us into his mental illness – that one did that much more effectively than this. Dafoe, Sevigny, Kier, Zabriskie, Hall, Peña and others all provide solid support and add the sense of a deep cast, but they are just structural supports for a film which prepares the base well but seem to have much to actually hold it together from there. That said, I did like that so many of them linked to other films from Herzog, Lynch or both.
It is a shame because it is rare to find myself so pushed away by Herzog as I was here. This is not to say that I always "get" him, but usually what he is doing has enough of interest and curiosity behind it that even when I'm outside his shop, he still draws me to put my nose against the window. But here it seemed deliberate to push me away, to prevent me understanding and I'm sure that was not the goal, just the side effect of the method of trying to achieve the goal.
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