A Dangerous Method - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
FOR anyone thinking that A Dangerous Method marks a radical departure for director David Cronenberg then it’s worth considering that his first film was a seven minute short, named Transfer, that featured a psychiatrist and his patient.
He therefore comes full circle with his latest, a complex look at the origins of psycho-analysis and the love triangle of sorts that took place between trailblazers Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein.
But while certainly intriguing and occasionally mentally stimulating, A Dangerous Method falls some way short on making a telling emotional connection, emerging as too episodic and detached in many ways.
Set between 1904 and 1913, the film picks up as a troubled Russian woman named Sabina (Keira Knightley) is entered into the care of Jung (Michael Fassbender), who proceeds to employ a radical new ‘talking cure’ for helping her.
The new approach in question draws Jung into the radical new treatment philosophy of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and the two become close friends. But as Jung seeks to push the boundaries of the profession still further, to incorporate rehabilitation as well as diagnosis, the relationship becomes strained.
To make matters more complicated, the married Jung is drawn into a dangerous relationship with Sabina, who offers him the possibility of indulging his darkest sexual fantasies with her as a form of relief from the more straight-laced affections he shows his wife (Sarah Gadon).
Cronenberg’s film, based on the stage play by Christopher Hampton (which he has adapted for the screen), is arguably at its best when placing the relationship between Freud and Jung centre-stage, during which Fassbender and Mortensen are allowed to indulge in a polite battle of wits that is as candid as it is humorous.
The two actors clearly enjoy being in each other’s company and rise to the verbal challenges presented in Hampton’s text.
The film is much less convincing, though, when examining the relationship between Jung and Sabina, largely because Knightley doesn’t always convince in what is, admittedly, a very tricky role.
When first presented, Sabina is in a physically contorted state of madness, jerking away from each possible touch and forced to project anguish and suffering across her face. But while it’s shocking to see Knightley placed in such a scenario, her attempts to embody the turmoil within sometimes look too forced or stagey.
She is much more at ease when dealing with Fassbender’s Jung as an equal, posing a sizeable threat to his reputation and marriage and fuelling the breakdown of the friendship between him and Freud.
But even then, the romance between them fails to ignite depriving the film of the heart and soul that is suggested in Hampton’s script.
Cronenberg perhaps needs to shoulder some of the blame for this, too, as he attempts to cram so much into a comparatively short running time – and this despite allowing a number of scenes to really breathe as ideologies and feelings are discussed.
A Dangerous Method is therefore an easier film to admire than it is to like and really engage with. It features several fine performances (including notable support from Vincent Cassel and Gadon) and some typically impressive camera tricks.
But while acknowledging the complexities of the emotions and egos at play, as well as the radical nature of the thinking for the time period in which it is set, the film is curiously underwhelming on an emotional level. It’s not one of Cronenberg’s best even though it certainly had the potential to be.
Running time: 99mins
UK Release Date: February 10, 2012
- Read our review
- Viggo Mortensen interview
- David Cronenberg interview
- Michael Fassbender & Viggo Mortensen interview
- A Dangerous Method Photo Gallery
- Watch the trailer