My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
First Look Pictures // R // $24.98 // September 14, 2010
Review by Preston Jones | posted September 16, 2010
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie

Alone, the names David Lynch and Werner Herzog are enough to get cinephiles' tongues wagging. Together? It portends epic oddities, a fantastical collaboration promising to bend the very boundaries of filmmaking -- right? Sadly, not exactly. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is, it should be noted right up front, is an appropriately off-kilter project for the pair to have joined forces on, but nowhere near the blast of peculiarity most would expect from either director on his own. Herzog does most of the heavy lifting -- he's credited as co-writer and director -- while Lynch is one of the executive producers (perhaps he's responsible for the left-field inclusion of a little person about halfway through?).

My Son, My Son has its roots in reality. The screenplay, authored by Herzog and Herbert Golder, is based upon a true crime tale, in which a young thespian became a little too Method while rehearsing a Greek tragedy and murdered his mother with a sword. It's a bizarre blend of psychological thriller and erstwhile police procedural that drifts along, content to punctuate a stand-off with detours into the theater world and, this being Herzog, Peru.

Michael Shannon gives what is, by now, fast becoming his stock-in-trade performance, that of a deeply troubled individual whose grip on reality is, at best, tenuous. He's played the part in countless films (Revolutionary Road and Bug, to name just a couple) and lesser actors would've been knocked for the repetition by now. But Shannon is so damned good at making viewers feel the barely contained angst that it's hard to argue his choices. Here, he plays Brad McCullum, a talented actor who becomes a bit too immersed in the role he's playing in a Greek tragedy with his fiancee Ingrid (Chloe Sevigny).

One morning, with no warning, Brad slays his mother with a sword borrowed from his eccentric Uncle Ted (Brad Dourif), which instigates a stand-off with police (Willem Dafoe, Michael Pena), who're desperately trying to understand exactly why Brad committed matricide. Herzog isn't terribly interested in the mechanics of the police investigation, only in that he uses it to thread together his narrative, which concerns itself with Brad's mental state and his creepy relationship with his mother (Grace Zabriskie).

Through conversations with Brad's friends and fiancee, Detective Hank Havenhurst (Dafoe) attempts to piece together Brad's slow, steady mental disintegration. It's here that Herzog also attempts to fold in commentary on the artistic process and how actors can go too far in trying to become their roles. With such juicy material -- a salacious hook; probing deranged minds and willing actors -- why is My Son, My Son so, well, boring?

A big reason is that the film tends to meander along, in no real hurry to reach its resolution, which undermines Shannon's explosive performance. His outbursts electrify the frame, but all that energy dissipates as Herzog (as he did in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) becomes fixated on minutiae that doesn't have much of anything to do with what's taking place on screen. What could have been harrowing is merely interesting, and while Shannon's turn here is easily worth a rental, the overall experience may frustrate fans of both Herzog and Lynch. Given the men's track record, one would certainly expect more than what's provided here.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done takes a chilling premise -- over-involved thespian kills his mother in a bloody example of Method acting gone awry -- and fails to make a compelling film. Herzog keeps things weird, as would be expected, but never really arrives at a final destination. Brad McCullum is deranged when viewers meet him and little has changed 91 minutes later. Despite that, Michael Shannon gives one of the year's most riveting performances, as he adds yet another quirky, unstable character to his ever-growing roster.

The DVD

The Video:

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done arrives on DVD with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. In keeping with Herzog's seat-of-his-pants aesthetic, the image is serviceable without ever being truly remarkable. (That's not to say there aren't moments of startling cinematic beauty.) Fond of extreme close-ups and evocative foreign vistas, the well-saturated, sharp and largely defect-free transfer conveys his loopy vision without distracting from it.

The Audio:

Much as with the visuals, the audio presentation -- an English, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack -- gets the job done without any major flaws. Much of the spoken dialogue feels a touch too soft (I found myself reaching for the volume whenever Brad wasn't shouting), but the score, anchored by Spanish ballads, filters in nicely, providing an immersive bed with which to soak up the extravagantly odd back-and-forth between Herzog's characters. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.

The Extras:

The strangest bonus here is the inclusion of director Ramin Bahrani's short Plastic Bag, narrated by Herzog. It has no discernible tie to the film, aside from Herzog, so perhaps it's a case of one director doing another a favor? The short is presented in anamorphic widescreen, runs 18 minutes and 22 seconds and will almost certainly make viewers think of American Beauty at least once. Elsewhere on the disc, Herzog sits for a commentary track with producer Eric Bassett and co-writer Herbert Golder. It's a chatty affair, with the men discussing the actual case that inspired the film as well as some behind-the-scenes details. A 27 minute, 31 second "interview" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) titled "Behind the Madness" features Herzog and Golder discussing the film. A trailer gallery completes the disc.

Final Thoughts:

Alone, the names David Lynch and Werner Herzog are enough to get cinephiles' tongues wagging. Together? It portends epic oddities, a fantastical collaboration promising to bend the very boundaries of filmmaking -- right? Sadly, not exactly. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is, it should be noted right up front, is an appropriately off-kilter project for the pair to have joined forces on, but nowhere near the blast of peculiarity most would expect from either director on his own. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done takes a chilling premise -- over-involved thespian kills his mother in a bloody example of Method acting gone awry -- and fails to make a compelling film. Herzog keeps things weird, as would be expected, but never really arrives at a final destination. Brad McCullum is deranged when viewers meet him and little has changed 91 minutes later. Despite that, Michael Shannon gives one of the year's most riveting performances, as he adds yet another quirky, unstable character to his ever-growing roster. Rent it.



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