Old 11-25-2011, 08:28 PM
David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



A Dangerous Method (2011)

Director/writer David Cronenberg has had quite a strange career. He’s given us some fascinating and memorable films like “A History of Violence,” “The Fly,” and “Naked Lunch,” but like most directors, he has also had his pitfalls with earlier films like “Videodrome” and “The Brood.” Now Cronenberg completely changes gears to bring us something that’s quite unlike his usual areas of interest.

“A Dangerous Method” explores the early days of psychoanalysis through the eyes of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) as he attempts a new method developed by Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). This method simply calls for the doctor to talk to the patient, in this case, a disturbed young woman named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), in order to cure them. However, thanks to a few discussions with another psychoanalyst, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassell), Jung is encouraged to act out his impulses, revealing that he has feelings for Sabina, as she does for him. Meanwhile, the relationship between Jung and Freud is also explored as they persevere to further their field of expertise.

Unfortunately, while I do always appreciate when a director tries something completely different, “A Dangerous Method” represents another misstep in Cronenberg’s career. To put it simply, the film feels like it goes absolutely nowhere despite having two fascinating characters in Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. There could have been a great film here about the beginnings of psychoanalysis, how it came to be, and how it was used, but alas, it was not to be.

One of the film’s biggest weaknesses is that it is extremely verbose, which is not always a bad thing, but when the conversation isn’t leading anywhere, developing the plot, or at least interesting in some way to the audience, then you’re just left listening to characters drone on and on. It becomes no surprise that the screenplay by Christopher Hampton is based on his own play, which he based off a book by John Kerr. The film has a very theatrical feeling, like it would be much better suited for the stage instead of a motion picture, but even then it doesn’t seem like it would be particularly engaging.

Another big flaw is the film’s structure, which starts out fine as the story begins to unfold, but then quickly becomes unhinged. We are first introduced to Jung and Sabina and slowly watch them fall in love, but then, partway into the film, it begins to jump forward in time, sometimes by a few years. This leaves the structure with a very disjointed feeling as we try to figure out what has happened during this time we have missed.

In these leaps of time, apparently some major things happened that are left completely undeveloped, such as when Jung and Freud go to America. After a jump, we are suddenly back in Europe where Sabina has furthered her knowledge of psychoanalysis and wants to start working on a paper. Another jump or two later finds her becoming closer to Dr. Freud, who decides to let her treat some of his patients. However, after such little development and so many leaps during the story, there’s little connection to be had to the characters and what they become.

The high point of “A Dangerous Method” comes in the performances of the two main actors, but not so much from the third. Knightley has been receiving some praise for her portrayal of Sabina, but her performance was the strangest and weakest of the three leads. Early on in the film, as she is trying to play a mad woman, Knightley goes over-the-top far too often to make it believable, in a sense, reminding us that we are watching a performance. There is also the mystery of her bizarre disappearing and reappearing Russian accent from the second half of the film that further separated her from the role.

Mortensen does a fine job with the role of Freud, providing a believable accent and mannerisms. He doesn’t appear in the film as much as the others, but he’s around long enough to make an impact. Fassbender is an actor that has been breaking out recently, playing in everything from “X-Men: First Class” to “Jane Eyre.” He plays Jung in a very straightforward manner as a man who at first has no problem with being with Sabina, but quickly realizes that there are complications that force him to rethink their relationship.

Aside from the two lead performances, the production design also stands out, helping to evoke the period of the early 20th century. If only it had been used for a better story. Hopefully, this misstep won’t deter Cronenberg from trying new areas. He just needs to make sure the screenplay he’s working with is solid and captivating instead of disjointed and dull. There are some plays that are meant to remain on the stage. This is one of them. 2/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 12-04-2011 at 03:40 AM..
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