Sunday, 29 April 2012

Film Review: A Dangerous Method (2011)

Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Christopher Hampton
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen

Director David Cronenberg’s career has taken a different path over the last decade; gone are the low budget bodyshock horrors of Rabid, The Brood, and Scanners of the 1980s and with 1996’s Crash, he made one of the most controversial films of all time but with it brought a new audience – myself being one of them. Cronenberg continued to explore the darker side of the human psyche with Spider in 2002 but his first mainstream success came with the surprise hit A History of Violence in 2005 which explored two of his main themes in identity and the violent nature of man but in a way much more accessible to mainstream audiences.

A Dangerous Method is a film which, on the outset, you may not associate with Cronenberg; a period piece set in the early 1900s, real life characters, no trace of physical violence or death, and no gore whatsoever. However, this is classic Cronenberg, just with the visuals turned down and the dialogue turned way up.

The story begins when, what we believe to be a highly disturbed young woman (Keira Knightly) is brought to the attention of Karl Jung (Michael Fassbender) who is in the early stages of his psychoanalytical career. He vows to help cure the woman with his ‘talking cure’ and in doing so turns to the already highly respected figure of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen. The ‘danger’ in their ‘methods’ is multilayered as Jung risks his marriage and happiness when he begins an affair with the cured patient; their relationship is underpinned by a sadomasochistic sexual connection stemming from the beatings her father would give her. His relationship with Freud begins friendly enough, but the two men soon become rivals and disagree on the methods to cure their patients and Freud’s several comments about anti-Semitism are a warning to the dangers that would come in 30 years time.

The acting is solid throughout and my choice for the best performance goes to Knightly. Her performance starts as a very physical one with the jutting jaw and contorted body of an insane woman, but as the film moves on, so does her performance to one of nuances and a maturity I’ve not seen from her before. Maybe it took a great director and wordy screenplay to get the best out of her because Pirates of the Caribbean this is not. Man of the moment Michael Fassbender gives yet another worthy performance to match his work in Shame. Viggo Mortensen and Cronenberg are starting a Di Caprio/Scorsese relationship with this being the director’s third successive film with the actor; each one requiring a different approach from Mortensen and giving him something to put his abundance of screen presence to good use. I have no doubt that in Mortensen and Fassbender we have two future Academy Award Winners.

This film isn’t for everyone because it is very wordy and devoid of almost any excitement from the story. But what is exciting is in the performances and the subtle dangers which come to light as these three people meet. This is well worth anyone’s time who has a a mature enough mind for such cinema.

One final thing: Is the final shot a homage to The Godfather Part II? Both films show their protagonists sitting in a chair, broken men on the inside but knowing they must not show it. “Sometimes you have to do something unforgivable, just to go on living” says Jung. Michael Corleone knows all about that.


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