My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?


Just in case peeps thought that Werner Herzog was getting too mainstream, what with Grizzly Man and, of all things, a Nicolas Cage film (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans), along comes a film that reminds us that the man is making films for himself and no one else.

Ostensibly based on a true story, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? opens with Detectives Hank Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) and Vargas (Michael Peña) attending at the scene of a homicide in San Diego. It seems a woman has been run through with a sword.My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? They quickly discover that the culprit was one Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon), the victim’s son. Soon they’ve got a hostage situation on their hands, as Brad refuses to come out of his house, occasionally coming to the front door to wave a shotgun around crazily.

Herzog conducts the film in a deliberately awkward manner, and as such, left me completely mystified as to his intentions. It’s a kind of an absurdist noir, but I was never sure if it was supposed to be funny or not. Many moments certainly induced chuckles from the audience, but there was a sense of unease, like no one was certain as to what they were watching.

There is a lot of talent onscreen. Aside from the names I’ve mentioned, we have Udo Kier, Brad Dourif and Chloë Sevigny popping by to confuse us some more. The film covers the hostage situation from beginning to end, dispersed with flashbacks that fill in Brad’s backstory. These include his trip to Peru (which recalls Aguirre: The Wrath of God at times) and his rehearsals with the local theatre company. None of it is particularly illuminating – this isn’t a film that delivers any answers.

Remember the bizarre iguana-themed arty moments in Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant? There are some of those here too, where characters are holding a pose as if for a photograph, except they do it for 30 seconds. In one case, an actress is doing so whilst holding a plate of jelly. Yep, it’s all a little bit… odd. Interestingly enough, the film does happen to feature possibly the best greenscreen I’ve seen in years, something that Captain America failed to do.

There have been a few reviewers who have credited this film with being a success, but it was clear from my screening that no one felt this way. If the film had knocked it out of the park with a stunning final scene, then it would have all been worth it. Suffice to say, it features nothing of the sort. It’s kind of strange, but not strange enough, and it’s sorta funny without being properly humorous. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? is one for Herzog fans only. Everyone else can give it a miss.

Rating: 2.0 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 31st August 2011
Hoopla Factor: 2.0 stars

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