Werner Herzog, at his weakest, directs a 1979 adaptation of Georg Büchner's prescient, premodern modernist play of 1836. Herzog has distorted the text, about a ruthlessly oppressed common man driven to commit a quixotic murder, in order to fit his visionary, romantic themes. But the play hasn't been reimagined—it's merely been pushed off center. Klaus Kinski, in the title role, is a remarkable presence, burning with fear and pain, but Herzog forces him to play at a single pitch throughout, which overrides the considerable complexities of the character. Otherwise, the film seems to have been barely directed—the camera setups are relentlessly banal. Eva Mattes gives good support, though, and at heart it remains a very great text.
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