Werner Herzog almost has it all: an iconic speaking voice, a legendary career and some of the most well-known titles in his film history. The only thing he’s missing? Love. And that need is where we step into My Dinner With Werner, a wild, brilliant film that takes us back to 1987, to a dinner date that Herzog embarks upon. Part love story, part murder mystery, the film takes the setting of a dinner date and uses it to explore the relationship between Herzog and collaborator Klaus Kinski, who view their work together as both an exploration of abuse and the most important thing either have ever done.
This film is bizarre and absolutely ridiculous in all the best ways. Matthew Sanders channels one of the best impressions of Herzog around, bringing forth his trademark low monotone and intense demeanor as he takes a young actress (Chynna Walker) out to dinner. The date seems to be going down some dark paths, thanks to Herzog’s propensity to wax melodramatic on any number of subjects, until the truth of the dinner is revealed: someone is trying to kill Herzog.
The person in question is Kinski (Andrew Perez), whose work with Herzog in the acclaimed Aguirre, The Wrath Of God brought both Herzog and Kinski to their limits and further, cementing a complex and difficult relationship between the two. This, along with some further challenges to how they interact has brought things to a head, as Walker’s Christine is brought into a plot to take Herzog out once and for all, with Kinski trying more and more ways to bring the film titan to an early grave.
This film is bizarre, violent, and an assault on sanity for both the characters and the viewer, something that is meant as a supreme compliment. Endlessly engaging, the film is a beautiful bottle film, changing an unsuspecting restaurant into a den of vipers playing a game of death with one another. As Kinski continues to push Herzog and Herzog replies with simple denial, the film escalates, and that build-up is one of the most engaging parts of the film. Writer/director Maverick Moore (who co-wrote the film with Ryan McNamara) has created an minefield for viewers to enjoy, and each one that explodes is more brilliant and devastating than the last. It does something that Herzog himself is known to do extremely well, which is to approach comedy with the seriousness of the deadly jungles in which Herzog made his masterpiece, allowing for each bleak moment to be tinged with an unreality that makes the most intense moments illicit laughs.
A moment needs to be taken for the performances of Perez and Sanders, who bring the relationship between Kinski and Herzog to life. The wild abandon in which Perez approaches Kinski is terrifying and amazing, screaming and flailing his way through an epic performance. One the other side, Sanders’ Herzog is muted, deadpan and dark, prone to long rambles about the meaninglessness of life and almost gleeful about the bleaker aspects of life, despite his words barely registering above a whisper. It’s basically a perfect Herzog in every way. Additionally, Walker and Grant Virtue (who plays a waiter who is a big Herzog fan) are both so well done, bringing some additional brilliance to the roles of people dragged into the mess between the two filmmakers.
My Dinner With Werner is a wild ride, but one absolutely worth taking. It’s a seventeen minute whirlwind that gives you time to absorb what’s happening only long enough for what you believe is happening to change entirely. Darkly funny, deeply engaging and executed brilliantly by the actors, this is a truly special film that needs to be seen.