Cobra Verde

Film
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
REBEL YELL Kinski leads his charges with a mighty roar.
REBEL YELL Kinski leads his charges with a mighty roar.

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The last of Werner Herzog’s collaborations with his madman muse, Klaus Kinski (unless you count the director’s 1999 tribute, My Best Fiend, as a posthumous joint project), this adaptation of Bruce Chatwin’s The Viceroy of Ouidah is the type of crazed, folkloric epic that Germany’s own De Niro--Scorsese duo usually excelled at. The story seemed written for them: An ambitious antihero battles harsh terrain and exploits an indigenous culture trying to fulfill a loopy vision quest. (Feel free to draw your own comparisons to the filmmaker’s gonzo working methods.) And while Cobra Verde isn’t as high-caliber a role as Don Lope de Aguirre, the slave trader is the sort of larger-than-life character that was Kinski’s specialty.

So why does this striking example of early-19th-century weltanschauung still feel like minor Herzog? The movie never reaches the delirious heights of his earlier work, making the director’s usual background grotesques and shots of scorched-earth landscapes seem more like affectations. Kinski’s louche-lunatic act is only peripherally connected to what’s going on; for every great line reading (“I don’t trust shoes”), there’s too much inexplicable sneering and glowering. You could easily forget that Cobra Verde revolves around imperialistic hubris—not one performer’s ability to play bat-shit insane. (Opens Fri; IFC Center.) — David Fear

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