Based on The Talking Cure by Christopher Hamptons and A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr the David Cronenberg-directed A Dangerous Method explores the birth of psychoanalysis and the key people involved in its inception Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein. It is a Canadian-English production and was one of the films that helped star Michael Fassbender win the London Critics Circle Film Award for Best British Actor in 2011.
Set just before the beginning of the First World War, A Dangerous Method follows the life of Carl Jung (Fassbender), father of analytical psychology. He takes a new patient in the form of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) who suffers from severe sexual repression and seeks out Jung’s help. Their relationship and Jung’s budding theories on psychoanalysis put him at odds with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), creator of the method.
The leading male actors are both excellent in their respective roles, each bringing their ˜method acting’ to the forefront. Fassbender continues his streak of fantastic performances alive and kicking and there can be no doubt that he is going to be one of the biggest actors in the world. Against him is Mortensen, a man made famous by Lord of the Rings, but whose other works highlight just how exceptionally talented he is too. A Dangerous Method gives both men the chance to play slightly against type, with Fassbender rather stuffy and Mortensen laid-back and even funny. The film gives them plenty of dialogue, more so than other recent film dares to give its actors, it’s a shame then that their interactions are so limited, but this is to make room for the real star-turn.
Knightley’s performance is skittish and brittle as she gurns, emotes and generally awkwardly thrusts her jaw around the screen like someone undergoing a horrific transformation. It’s as Cronenbergian ˜body shock horror’ as you can get with simply a jaw line. Sadly for the audience, her generous, if passionless spanking sessions with Fassbender do cure her and the resulting character is rather harsh-edged and dislikeable. Still it’s the bravest performance from an actress who is really trying to challenge herself and produce new and interesting work and any doubts about her ability are slowly melting away.
With three vastly differing, but equally powerhouse performances at its core, it’s a shame that A Dangerous Method is let down by its director. David Cronenberg, a man synonomous with controversy and pushing the boundaries of ˜decency’ has somehow moved his work into more mainstream territory. Films like A History of Violence worked on a different level, but A Dangerous Method really needed Cronenberg to revert back to his envelope-pushing days, but instead he plays it safe. It is to the detriment of the film, but surely not the box office, that he seems to veer to the side of caution.
David Cronenberg could have, and probably should have done more with the cast and material at his disposal, but with his attempts to move to a more socially acceptable and mainstream-friendly position in film-making, there were always going to be some casualties.