Director: David Cronenberg
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Recorded Picture Company
There’s way too little danger and too much method in the cushy, tasteful, icy cool A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg’s movie version of Christopher Hampton’s stage play based on John Kerr’s book. Set roughly between 1900 and World War I, the central kerfuffle of the movie is a clash between psychiatric trailblazers Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, played persuasively by Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, respectively. Jung objects to his all-knowing, fatherly hero being all about sex, sex, sex; Freud warns the novice Jung that he’s overly drawn to mysticism, the ethereal.
The method – make that Method -- is supplied by Keira Knightley, who plays a brilliant Russian Jew who drives an even further wedge between the two doctors. For the first (and weakest) third of the movie, Knightley’s character, a psych in-patient under Jung’s care, suffers from a particularly showy form of Oscar-bating sexual hysteria. Director Cronenberg apparently encouraged her to let it rip with a full volley of eye rolling, fang-baring, jaw-jutting, arm-contorting, twitches and much snorting. You may think it’s brilliant. It had us looking for the nearest exit.
Knightley’s wildly uneven performance gains in force, persuasion and sexual abandon. Her therapy sessions with Jung reveal her as an exceptionally brilliant, learned young woman destined for a life of great achievement as a psychotherapist. In the meantime, she just happens to enjoy spanking, bondage and humiliation with her sex play. Her servicing of Jung, though a daddy and married to a rich, beautiful young woman, steps way beyond the bounds of doctor-patient professionalism. Much prim and proper humiliation and self-recrimination follow, of course, but only of the toniest, most theatrical kind.
Vincent Cassel drops in to play a coke-snorting, hedonistic, troubled therapist who urges Jung to get in touch with his inner id. There’s an energy drop once he’s gone. A Dangerous Method is nothing if not elegantly shot, gorgeously composed and full of spectacularly witty, well-written, well-acted scenes between Fassbender and Mortensen. Unfortunately, those moments are sandwiched in between choppy, disjointed other stuff and overall, the movie is too hermetically sealed and emotionally distant. And why does Knightley admirably attempt a Russian accent while Fassbender (who is, after all, German-born) and Mortensen settle for something that sounds faintly British and Masterpiece Theatre-ish? Cronenberg hasn’t been this proper and prim since M. Butterfly.