Telluride Review: Cronenberg's Fascinating, Dull 'A Dangerous Method'
by Alex Billington
September 6, 2011
With a filmography including Scanners, The Fly and Videodrome, one would expect David Cronenberg to dabble in fascinating subjects yet still craft a film that's entertaining—even exciting—to watch. That's what I was hoping to see with A Dangerous Method, his new film about psychoanalysis, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, but unfortunately Cronenberg only included half of that cinematic equation in this film. That half is the fascinating half, as Dangerous Method is immensely fascinating to watch, delving into the early origins of psychoanalysis in a very intriguing way, but the film overall is rather dull and ultimately quite forgettable.
Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, adapted by screenwriter Christopher Hampton from John Kerr's book, focuses primarily on Carl Jung (played by Michael Fassbender), a Swiss psychiatrist who is influenced by the legendary Sigmund Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen). The actual story is framed around a Russian patient he takes on, affected by paternal abuse in her childhood, whom he eventually has an adulterous relationship with, almost partially for additional research into his own controversial treatment methods. Keira Knightley plays the Russian, named Sabina Spielrein, and is actually one of the most exciting parts of the film, initially starting out nearly over-the-top in her crazy psycho-portrayal as a madwoman, but eventually settling into a more honed, yet impressive, performance throughout the later half of the film.
Despite all of this, including Cronenberg's fantastic production values (give or take some shoddy CGI in one scene) and camerawork, the film is still fairly dull. It contains mostly scenes of talking and discussion, which is fascinating to follow especially for anyone who has studied psychology, but doesn't provide much to enjoy besides a fairly standard story of mistresses and jealousy. Even the moments where Jung and Freud finally meet up, which should be some of the most intense and captivating, are not as fervent as they could've been. If only this wasn't just another straight period drama focused mostly on the relationship between Jung and Spielrein, it might have actually been a bit more memorable. Alas, I've already started forgetting it.
Out of everyone in the film, I was most impressed by Keira Knightley, who stands out above Fassbender and Mortensen, which is a bit odd considering I know these two are very talented actors. Fassbender, who's born of German and Irish parents, hardly puts on a Swiss persona at all, and still seemed like the more charming Irishman we know him to be. Vincent Cassel makes a surprisingly poignant appearance as Otto Gross as well. Maybe period pieces like this just bore me, or maybe Cronenberg's film doesn't have the substance to be anything more than forgettable, but A Dangerous Method didn't leave much of a lasting impression.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 6 out of 10