Written by Markus Robinson, Edited Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Rated R for sexual content and brief language
Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:
Keira Knightley gives the most off-putting yet polarizing performance of her career, which in turn may be the only reason for anyone to go see “A Dangerous Method”. Directed by David Cronenberg (A History of Violence, The Fly) and adapted from a play by Christopher Hampton, who himself adapted the story from a novel by John Kerr, this film stars Michael Fassbender (Shame) in his second sexually driven (but much more average) performance of the year as Carl Jung, Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice) as the love interest Sabina Spielrein and Viggo Mortensen (The Road) as the one and only Sigmond Freud. If the names of these characters are not familiar to you already, then I can tell you right now that “A Dangerous Method” is not for you.
Synopsis: With WWI on the horizon, “A Dangerous Method” is a period piece pseudo love story centering around two intertwining storylines. The first, is the tale of a patient turned lover, which follows the young and very married psychiatrist Carl Jung (Fassbender) and his reportedly ongoing affair with the apparent lunatic turned doctor Sabina Spielrein (Knightly), and the parallel story dissects the mentor student relationship (which results in a feud) of the seasoned Sigmond Freud and the aforementioned Jung. I do give Cronenberg a ton of credit here, because while this is not the average Cronenberg Venereal horror film (yes, that is a real term), he does a fabulous job of putting his own dark stamp on the period piece genre. He also does quite notable visual work with stage play material, material which could have played itself out to be more tedious and overbearing than it actually was. In fact, the material/script written by playwright Hampton is the one true element which does fail Cronenberg as well as the audience. In a story which starts off so strong, with Jung waxing on about thought provoking dreams he’s been having, Freud staring steadfast as he attempts to find sexual connotations to any and all of his patients psychological woes, and Spielrein acting nuts, Cronenberg struggles to keep this film afloat as “A Dangerous Method” reaches closer to its almost shrug inducing climax; and as the subject matter becomes more and more concentrated, gearing itself towards the psychology professors in the audience.
The real reason to watch: As I stated before, Knightly not only serves as a scene stealer here, outperforming every actor on screen every time she makes an appearance, but this performance does result in what I will call the greatest performance of her still early career. But just a forewarning: to some Knightly’s character will be so out there that it will be hard for them to latch on to her seemingly over-the-top acting. Even for this reviewer, Knightly’s performance did come off as very forced right off the bat. But as more of her character is shown to the audience, her performance seems to transform from quite over-exaggerated to extremely engaging. Why she isn’t in the discussion for a best actress nomination in at least one of these awards shows is beyond me. Oh, and before I end this paragraph, I must address the other stellar (although sparse) performance from one Vincent Cassel (Black Swan), who plays Otto Gross (another person of note, which nobody outside of the academia of psychoanalysis will be able to place) and is only in this movie for all of five minutes, but within those minutes his presence onscreen seems so necessary then when he does take his leave, the film suddenly takes an abrupt entertainment nosedive, which it never recovers from.
Final Thought: Unfortunately “A Dangerous Method” does falter after the first act, petering into a slew of psychobabble which this reviewer found interesting, but those who are not familiar with this subject matter will not. This is an instance where you have a story surrounding some very interesting and historically relevant characters in the history of psychology, but none of whom are done justice with this material. In the end, “A Dangerous Method”, while containing some brave and beautiful (at times) direction and Knightly’s all too interesting performance, is a movie that most audiences will find themselves needing to do some background character research if they intend on simply getting through the subject matter.
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