Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel DIRECTED BY
David Cronenberg SCREENPLAY
Christopher Hampton MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
99 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
Sony Classics DVD EXTRAS
Commentary; "Make of" Featurette; Interviews
"A Dangerous Method" Review
While I'm not quite willing to call Keira Knightley's performance in A Dangerous Method a masterful performance from the talented actress with a limited emotional range, I am willing to go out on a limb and say that if she'd mustered this much of an emotionally resonant performance in last year's critically acclaimed Never Let Me Go that film would have been a Best Picture nominee. Instead, Knightley was the weak link last year amongst a trio that included Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.
This film finds Knightley amongst another trio, Viggo Mortensen as famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and Michael Fassbender as Freud's protege and equally acclaimed Carl Jung. Knightley is Sabina Spielrein, a young Russian woman who came to Jung's doorstep an undeniable psychological mess and, in response to this newly developed psychoanalysis, experienced remarkable healing and transformation. She also, so the story goes, became "intimately" involved with the conflicted psychoanalyst, a married man with a growing family.
Inspired by events said to be true, A Dangerous Method is directed by David Cronenberg, a director not exactly known for his subtlety in filmmaking but a director who ends up being darn near perfect in his direction of this film. A Dangerous Method, written by Tony Award-winning writer Christopher Hampton, is a dialogue heavy film that vacillates between the theoretical conversations carried on by Freud and Jung and the emotionally harrowing scenes scenes brought to life by Knightley.
Spielrein, as history would reveal, would also ultimately become a psychoanalyst with a specialty in children. While she mostly existed in the shadows of Freud and Jung, many familiar with the works of all three would be inclined to call Spielrein the more gifted psychoanalyst. While A Dangerous Method isn't really about Spielrein, it is about her relationship with Jung and her role in the development of early psychoanalytic theory.
On a certain twisted level, A Dangerous Method feels like the perfect companion film for Michael Fassbender's cinematic year. The actor has had a breakthrough year with performances in X-Men: First Class, Jane Eyre, Haywire, Shame and A Dangerous Method. The latter two films both essentially deal with the concepts of repression, authenticity, sexuality and the fractured psyche. In Shame, Fassbender's emotionally repressed sex addict expresses himself through compulsive sexual behaviors. In this film, Fassbender's Jung expresses himself through, one might say, living out the unforgivable.
Despite the tremendous variation in his roles this year, Fassbender didn't give a weak performance in 2011 and appears poised to be able to define his career over the next few years after a career mostly spent in indie cinema with the exception of his turn in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.
Viggo Mortensen, as well, has proven mighty successful in working with David Cronenberg and strikes gold again with what may very well be his most emotionally satisfying performance despite a noticeable lack of emotion from the rather stoic Freud. This is unlike any Mortensen performance we've seen in quite some time, and it's certainly unlike any of his other previous work though thematically it's certainly more consistent than one might initially think.
Now then, back to Knightley. This is a revelatory performance by Knightley and infinitely more satisfying than her work in Never Let Me Go. That said, Knightley is still the weak link here even though it's not necessarily her fault that her performance feels so much more hyper-dramatic than that of Fassbender or Mortensen. For the most part, Knightley's performance should be more dramatic. There are simply times when it feels less authentic than the performances of her peers.
A Dangerous Method is currently on the arthouse circuit with distributor Sony Classics and given the reputations of Cronenberg and his cast one can only hope that it finds the audience that it deserves.