Friday, January 6, 2012

A Dangerous Method

Though initially as captivating as Keira Knightley's performance, "A Dangerous Method" fails to sustain interest for 99 minutes. Just at about the point Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein begin their intense affair, the film experiences a sheer drop-off in interest due to a more relaxed, less clinically focused pace and a feeling of fulfillment: now that what was inevitably going to happen happened, what now? The failure of director David Cronenberg and screenwriter Christopher Hampton to answer that question compromises what's actually a very solid 45 or so minutes and turns the remainder of the film into somewhat of a rote, hyper-cerebral chore.

That the movie works at all is thanks to Michael Fassbender, for the most part remarkably subdued here, and Knightley, for the most part remarkably and uncharacteristically out-of-control here. I've never seen Fassbender give a bad performance, but I've had my doubts about Knightley and whether she can really make a film watchable. Here, she veers sharply out of her normal range and tries something intense, with Russian accent and all. I'm not sure if she hits every mark, but as flailing, stuttering, and deeply passionate Sabina, Jung's most valued patient, she certainly leaves a big impression.

The film opens with her kicking and screaming, having to be restrained on the way to the hospital where Jung works, which sets the tone for the film's charged opening half. Jung wants to use his eventual friend and then bitter rival Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen)'s new idea for therapy, psychoanalysis or "the talking cure," and chooses Sabina as his first subject. It works very well, as it unearths unsettling truths about her damaged psyche (like how she likes to be beaten). Jung is pulled in by her indisputable magnetism, away from his rich and frankly pretty boring wife Emma (Sarah Gadon), especially when a psychiatrist he takes on as a patient (Vincent Cassel) emphasizes his distaste with monogamy.

Adapted from a book and then a play, "A Dangerous Method" is extremely dialogue-heavy, which works just fine at the beginning but ends up getting to be a little bit too much towards the ending. The film is also awkwardly edited and sequenced; very few scenes feel as if they follow each other naturally. I also felt as though it got increasingly less characteristic of Cronenberg as it went on. Some say it's not like him at all, but for me the beginning seems like a pretty snug fit in his oeuvre (even though I've only seen "A History of Violence"). Later on, however, as the score gets more and more generic and the plotting more and more disjointed, "A Dangerous Method" hardly feels distinct at all. C+

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I decided to look up this post, since I briefly reviewed this movie. I seem to be one of the few people who really liked this film. I'm not sure how much of it was my appreciation of the movie on its own merits and how much of it was my long-time interest in the subject and my love of period pieces.

Unlike you, I thought all three leads were quite good. However, I agree that Fassbender's was a stand-out performance.

Excellent review!