Monday, January 9, 2012


Viggo Mortensen and director David Cronenberg have had great success working together in this decade, collaborating for excellent films in the form of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES. In their newest trip out, A DANGEROUS METHOD, Mortensen dons the skin of Dr. Sigmund Freud while taking a rare back seat; giving way to newer actors in a complex, yet tame film.

Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) takes on a new patient, the mentally disturbed Sabina (Keira Knightley), and treats her using the new and controversial methods of Dr. Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Jung’s efforts are a success, and he finds himself having an affair with Sabina. Jung and Freud eventually collaborate together, and discover they have many differences in professional opinion, including Freud’s disapproval of Jung’s love affair with a patient.

A DANGEROUS METHOD starts off very strong. Centered on a powerful performance by Keira Knightley, Jung’s treatment of Sabina and his eventual infatuation with her moves things along very well. His adulterous love affair with her is a strong play on doctor-patient ethics, and it is interesting to see where the road will lead. However, around the half-way point things get complicated and eventually derailed. METHOD veers away from the love affair and moves to Jung’s professional relationship with Dr. Freud, which deteriorates as the film moves forward. By the third act, Jung and Sabina (who is training to be a doctor herself) begin publishing their own theories to counter Freud. What follows then are endless scenes of psycho-babble bullshit, which are not only difficult to understand but feel like they have no real bearing on the film or its characters.

Adding to the frustration is that A DANGEROUS METHOD doesn’t feel much like a Cronenberg film. Other than Knightley’s performance, his trademark shock-value is absent. On the surface it seems like the material he is working with doesn’t quite call for his usual disturbing imagery, but with so much talk and debate on the importance of Freud’s work in the film, it might have been helpful to see and understand how mental patients might have been treated or mistreated in 1903 prior to Freud. This adds to the feeling of very little consequence in the entire film. Fans of Cronenberg may be frustrated by the tameness.

Cronenberg however gets tremendous performances out of his cast. Mortensen is perfect as the intelligent and stubborn Freud, and Fassbender is excellent as well. There is a terrific smaller role by Vincent Cassel, but the real star of the film is Keira Knightley. Her violent mental breakdowns are difficult to watch, and the way she contorts her body (and her face) during the episodes is an unexpected, yet harrowing performance.

A DANGEROUS METHOD clocks in at just 93 minutes, but feels a lot longer due in part to the dull psycho-analysis debates. The many debates may have been interesting enough if their importance was more fleshed out. But since it wasn’t, METHOD just talks a lot without saying much.


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