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MOVIE REVIEW

'My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done'

Werner Herzog's movie, which is inspired by a 1979 San Diego case of an actor who enacts his play's murder in real life, is surprisingly boring.

December 18, 2009|By Gary Goldstein
  • Chloe Sevigny reenacts a play's murder in real life.
Chloe Sevigny reenacts a play's murder in real life. (Lena Herzog / Absurda )

With filmmaker Werner Herzog ("Fitzcarraldo," "Grizzly Man," "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans") at the helm and David Lynch as an executive producer, it's no surprise that "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done" is such an eccentric, often dreamlike concoction. What is unexpected, however, is that the film manages to be flat and uninteresting, despite the juicy (or, at the very least, lurid) true story from 1979 that serves as this curio's inspiration.

Michael Shannon, whose tedious performance here is a far cry from his Oscar-nominated turn in last year's " Revolutionary Road," stars as Brad, a disturbed, would-be actor who goes full-on batty after rehearsing the lead in a stage production of the Greek tragedy "Orestes," in which the title character kills his mother with a sword. Life unconvincingly imitates art as Brad replays the murder scene for real with his doting mother (Grace Zabriskie), then holes up in his home with two hostages as cops ( Willem Dafoe, Michael Peña) oversee the crime scene.

Brad's seemingly sensible fiancée (truly, what's she doing with this psycho?), played by Chloë Sevigny, and Brad's "Orestes" director (Udo Kier, a little of whom goes a long way here) tell the cops about Brad's recent life through a series of flashbacks that take us as far as Peru but offer little meaningful method to his madness.

Meanwhile, ostriches, flamingos, mariachis, little people, player pianos, Jell-O, oatmeal and an abandoned basketball all factor in, but basically for quirk's sake.

Herzog, who wrote the bumpy script with Herbert Golder, may have purposely given the film its stilted, slightly campy vibe -- which he used to great effect in the revved-up "Bad Lieutenant" -- but here it doesn't serve to enrich the story, showcase the talent or engage the viewer. Still, as a writer-director with five decades' worth of notable screen work to his credit, he certainly can't be faulted for taking risks, even if it means now and then, well, falling on his sword.

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