Let’s face it – any film that teams Werner Herzog and David Lynch is not going to be a Disney movie.
And it probably won’t feature Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johanssen, Tom Hanks or other (currently hot) box office stars.
Instead, we get Michael Shannon, Chloe Sevigny and Udo Kier and – to quote KC and the Sunshine Band in a somewhat different context – that’s the way (uh,huh,uh,huh) I like it.
No one plays dark and disturbed like Mr. Shannon and he is at the top of his game here as a mentally unstable young actor who takes his role in a classical Greek play a little too literally. (The play is about a man who kills his mother so you do the math.)
Ms. Sevigny plays the actor’s girlfriend. She may be puzzled or even worried by her boyfriend’s increasingly erratic behaviour. However, she doesn’t seem spooked. Instead, she attempts to reason with him as though he was just a little eccentric. Of course, it is Chloe Sevigny we’re taking about. Perhaps no other actress could carry off this part and make me believe this particular character.
Mr. Keir is the urbane director of the stage play in which the young actor is appearing. Even in the role of a so-called “normal” person I expected something completely off the wall could happen at any moment. (Mr. Kier’s screen presence usually lends itself to more, um, baroque roles in films such as Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Guy Maddin’s Keyhole.) Speaking of cinematic wild cards, Brad Dourif does not disappoint as the actor’s bizarre uncle. A look at recent titles on his imdb.com resume (Twisted, Malignant, Blood Shot) shows some of the films in which Mr. Dourif has specialized since his Oscar-nominated turn decades ago in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The cast also includes Willem Dafoe and Michael Pena as two detectives who try to talk the actor out of the home in which he has barricaded himself . Lynch veteran Grace Zabriskie (TV’s Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart) is suitably strange as the actor’s obsessive mother.
Creepily enough, the film is based on a real-life story.
Mr. Herzog has always been intrigued with the extremes of human behaviour, both in his fictional pieces (Fitzcarraldo) and in his documentaries (Into the Abyss). It is not surprising, then, that the legendary filmmaker would take an interest in the true life case of a promising actor named Mark Yavorsky who was convicted of matricide and served time in an institution for the criminally insane. Mr. Herzog and co-writer Herbert Golder (a Boston U Classical Studies prof) actually talked with Yavorsky. Herzog reveals the details of his visit on a DVD extra and shows us photos of the real life murderer.
The movie’s tagline is “The Mystery Isn’t Who Did It – But Why.” However, despite the best efforts of the cast and filmmakers. I never really understood why. Perhaps because there is no rational explanation.
To quote a character in a short story by Asa Larsson (part of a new anthology of Swedish crime fiction, A Darker Shade of Sweden) –
“People talk about the mystery of God. But I’d say people can be just as great a mystery.”