Michael Shannon plays an unhinged actor who kills his mother with a sword, mirroring the small scale theatre production of Orestes that he is currently rehearsing. The police believe he is also holding two hostages in his home and a siege situation develops. William Dafoe plays the caring detective in charge of the stand-off, convinced that Shannon is a psychopath.
This whole set-up is entirely devoid of tension and suspense, as we pause for flashbacks to the actor's troubled past, his spiritual awakening in Peru and Mexico and his problematic relationship with his overbearing mother (Zabriskie). His fiancee (Sevigny) and director (Kier) turn up and try to give assistance but are no less effective in shaping the outcome as anyone else.
It lacks a forceful performance to drive it, as Nicolas Cage did with his wonderful turn in Herzog's previous film Bad Lieutenant. Shannon, normally a first rate performer, here lacks vibrancy in animating his character's demons while Dafoe should be far more energetic in dealing with the strange events. There's no pace to the proceedings and the protagonists are too obtuse, so one is left wholly uninvolved in this aimless and pretentious piffle. Herzog fans will probably find something of interest though and Lynch acolytes might like to know that a dwarf shows up in one scene, but overall this is a meandering bore.