Review: A Dangerous Method

When I heard that David Cronenberg was to make a film about Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and psychoanalysis, I was very excited, but didn’t have a clue what to expect. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t this.

To say this is a turn-around for Cronenberg (the infamous Baron of Blood) would be an understatement. It certainly is dialogue orientated, and if it weren’t for the stunning cinematography and period detail, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that this was just a word for word screen adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure (incidentally, though, the playwright also wrote the screen play).

What I found so strange is that the story Cronenberg has found is such an interesting and important one, and yet curiously, it is told with a bizarre lack of passion or dramatic intensity. Even the sex scenes are clinical and emotionally removed. I concede that this was undoubtedly an artistic decision made by Cronenberg, but I can’t help feeling that it was something of an imprudent one. The result is alienating as opposed to compelling, which is what this movie should be.

However, even a curious approach to the material cannot sink the interest it provokes just by being told. It is a truly great story, and the film, although slightly bloodless, is certainly handsome (of a picture postcard aesthetic) and well acted by Michael Fassbender (as Jung) and Viggo Mortensen (as Freud). I would normally stick up for Keira Knightley, as in my opinion, she’s an incredibly gifted actress who gets an unfair press. Yet parts of her performance here, particularly towards the beginning of the film, left me ambivalent as to their merit.

Can I recommend A Dangerous Method? Certainly. It is a competent period drama with a fascinating subject (the best moments undoubtedly come from the scenes that Fassbender and Mortensen share), and it marks perhaps the biggest change in a director’s film canon that we’ve seen for quite a while. Descriptions of dreams and the exploration of the relationship between Jung and Freud – two massive egos and incredible scientific minds – are the things to treasure here. On balance, this film is a little disappointing; but that only means that it is a good film instead of a great one!

15 certificate

Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Jay Crosbie (February ’12)