"My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done," a meandering police procedural (inspired by a real-life case of matricide) directed by Werner Herzog and "presented by" David Lynch, offers little beyond the pleasures of its offbeat cast including Michael Shannon and Willem Dafoe.
Those great dreamers of cinema, Werner Herzog and David Lynch, may seem like unlikely collaborators at first glance, if only because they’re genuine visionaries who require fierce independence. What they share is the mutual pursuit of uniquely personal artistry, uncompromised by the high-stakes gamble of filmmaking.
Lynch and Herzog also share a deadpan sense of humor, so it makes sense that “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done” — directed by Herzog and “presented by” Lynch as executive producer — is a giddy hybrid of their creative sensibilities. It’s also a mostly incoherent mess, but that doesn’t stop it from being an amusing curio like Herzog’s previous feature, “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.”
If nothing else, this enjoyable police procedural suggests that Herzog may have found another crazy muse. Like Klaus Kinski before him, Michael Shannon (most recently seen in “The Runaways”) is intensely charismatic and strangely off-kilter, fully committed to his role as Brad, a San Diego grad student who ignites a residential-hostage crisis (based on the 1979 matricide case of Mark Yavorsky) after killing his needy, controlling mother (Grace Zabriskie) with a saber.
It hardly matters that the “hostages” turn out to be a pair of flamingoes (“my eagles in drag,” as Brad calls them), or that a pair of detectives (Willem Dafoe, Michael Peña) are solving Brad’s case with the help of his fiancée (Chloë Sevigny) and the director (Udo Kier) of the college production of Sophocles’ “Elektra” that drove Brad (in the role of Orestes) to real-life matricide.
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It’s all fodder for an aimless yet amiable jaunt through Herzog’s established preoccupations, including a man-against-nature detour to Peru (where Herzog filmed his 1972 masterpiece “Aguirre: The Wrath of God”).
Along the way, Herzog occasionally freezes his actors in tableau poses that fail to deliver any discernible significance. Herzog’s intentions remain frustratingly vague, and while the presence of Herzog favorite Brad Dourif (as Brad’s ostrich-farmer uncle) adds another touch of sun-baked eccentricity, it’s not enough to prevent this from being one of Herzog’s quirky misfires.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org