My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
The film takes place in Southern California, the story comes from an actual case, and the cast includes Willem Dafoe and Grace Zabriskie. It sounds like a David Lynch picture, except it isn't. Instead Lynch produced, while Werner Herzog directed. If Bad Lieutenant
was Herzog's swamp noir, My Son, My Son
is his desert noir. In another Lynchian touch, two cops (Dafoe and Michael Peña) provide entry into the San Diego-set story. Called to the scene of a murder, they meet actor Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon), who utters "Razzle dazzle" as they enter the flamingo-pink ranch house to find Mrs. McCullum (Zabriskie), dead by sword. Before Brad's fiancée, Ingrid (Chloë Sevigny), arrives, Herzog flashes back to Brad's days in Peru, where he found his "inner voice." The flashbacks continue to his participation in the famously matricidal Oresteia
(Udo Kier plays the director). Combined with Ernst Reijseger's off-kilter score and Peter Zeitlinger's sun-bleached cinematography, it all exerts a certain queasy fascination, but Herzog's "whydunit" never really takes flight. Unlike Nicolas Cage's loopy lieutenant, Shannon invests Brad with a more recessive quality, which gives his madman greater credibility--at the expense of empathy. And yet… there's a scene with Shannon, Brad Dourif, and a tiny man in a tuxedo that offers the sort of what-the-heck magic that makes even the lesser films of Herzog and Lynch more interesting than most. Fortunately, there are enough of those moments to make the movie worthwhile, though not quite the messed-up masterpiece it might've been. --Kathleen C. Fennessy