A Dangerous Method – 2011
Director David Cronenberg
Starring Kiera Knightley, Viggo Mortenson, Michael Fassbender, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon
Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
There is a scene almost directly after the credits where Carl Jung (Fassbender) describes the method of Q&A that he is going t0 use with his new prospective patient, Sabina Speilrein (Knightly). She gives a face that one could not mistake with compliance, then promptly jumps right into a discussion of her innermost problems. One can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t play hard to get, but we don’t need to wonder about it long. Her performance is about as subtle as a Mack truck through the screen.
What follows is a bunch of discussions between Jung and his patient, giving the appearance of professional respect, between Jung and Freud (Mortenson), which are supportive in their nontraditional methods, and Jung and Otto Gross (Cassel) who is anything but professional, unless you consider the profession of whoring. What follows, of course, is a sinking into the depths. He loses contact with Gross, debates with Freud and has a kinky dalliance with Spielrein. All of this is debased by poor acting on Knightley’s part, in particular.
For this, I have to blame Cronenberg. I don’t think I have ever seen such a poorly executed character. This throws off most of the potential benefit of the film, which gives rise to doubt the veracity of Jung’s discoveries, especially when compared to the relatively straight-laced Freud. Knightley’s mannerisms, her nipple shots, her awful accent and delivery lead me to believe that she must have purely been miscast. She has not had a great record with time-period pieces. Atonement and, especially, Pride and Prejudice should have benefitted from her absence. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, well, they don’t count. The other person considered for the role, Julia Roberts, is just too funny to contemplate.
The best parts of A Dangerous Method take place as debates between Freud and Jung. The discussion of the concepts, and how Jung’s involvement with a patient contaminate them is of interest. Fassbender’s scenes with Gadon, as Jung’s wife, Emma are decent as well, if pale in comparison to Downton Abbey.
The set pieces are decent, when confined indoors. Whenever special effects shots are required, like on the boat trip to America, the limitations of the budget are only equaled by the limits of the director’s vision.
Cronenberg has always been about the kink, and this film is no exception. Once in a while he hits the mark, like A History Of Violence, but this time…not so much.
(** out of *****)