I thought to myself before watching A Dangerous Method, but having already seen the trailer and hearing Keira Knightley in it, “How am I going to take this seriously when Knightley speaks like that?” And by ‘that’ I mean with a terrible Russian accent. It takes great skill, for which Keira has none, for an actor to master a convincing foreign accent and Keira managed to do not one but three, maybe four accents throughout the film. There was Russian, a little English, a lot of American, and a little something I have never heard before. Maybe a mixture of them all? It was incredibly distracting. But perhaps I should give her some credit or at least give her a break. After all she does offer the only humour in an otherwise serious film.
With that aside, is anyone else sick of seeing Keira do Period dramas?
Branch out a little Keira!
Now my rant is out-of-the-way, to the film I shall proceed.
Penned by award-winning writer Christopher Hampton whose earlier work includes Atonement and The Quiet American, A Dangerous Method is an incredibly intelligent script; dialogue heavy and intense, charting the tense relationships the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung had with his patient Sabina Spielrein, and Austrian neurologist and mentor Sigmund Freud.
The film spans more than seven years, starting in 1904 at the Burgholzli Clinic with the treatment of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Dr Carl Jung treats Spielrein with Freudian psychoanalysis with successful results and in 1906 Jung begins his discipleship and correspondence with Freud in what became a pivotal but turbulent relationship.
A Dangerous Method is a character study with the intricacies of its characters –Jung in particular- more important than the actual story. It’s typical David Cronenberg. His work often focuses our attention on the complexity of characters, exploring the human psyche. And like earlier works (A History Of Violence, Eastern Promises, and The Fly) Cronenberg masterfully details, creating complex personalities central to his story. Although it centres on the relationship between Jung and Freud, the attention remains heavily on Jung. Our journey is with him. Played by the charismatic Michael Fassbender whose intense and powerful performances we’ve become accustomed to with his most recent and impressive performance in Shame, and earlier films Fish Tank and Eden Lake placing him on everyone’s one-to-watch radar. He is fixating to watch, and effortlessly powers the film forward; commanding our attention in every scene. This is by far one of his greatest performances alongside the provocative and unflinching Shame. Viggo Mortensen returns in his third Cronenberg film as the revered Sigmund Freud. But unlike his earlier roles in A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises, his role here is far less demanding and meaty, getting little screen time in comparison to co-stars Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley; and disappointingly so as scenes between Jung and Freud are among the most engaging. Mortensen has little more to do here than chain smoke cigars.
Keira, to her credit, is not terrible either. And once you put aside the questionable accent and the initial scenes of girning –which came across a little OTT- she’s actually pretty good. Not surprising really with so many period dramas under her belt. She’s an expert in the field but personally I think they could have found someone more suited to the role. Perhaps a woman who spoke Russian, or had the accent at least? But star-power will more often than not trump talent. And in that respect there was no better choice.
The film itself is not particularly dramatic or penetrative. Too much time is skipped through to focus on significant moments so it loses any emotional build-up. It lacks depth, not in character or in the provocative relationship Jung has with Spielrein, but in the most important between Jung and Freud which is largely overlooked; and is perhaps overpowered by the intelligent theory based dialogue.
My problem is, as it is with Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar, that it covers too greater distance of time, trying to span an entire professional relationship so monumental and important that while trying to digest the word-heavy script and relationship between not two but three characters, you struggle to attach any emotional involvement. The focus here was not on emotional resonance, but to illustrate one mans relationship not with others but himself. Any attention given to his relationships with Freud and Spielrein only highlight his own subconscious and the intricacies of his personality.
Though it lacks in certain areas, A Dangerous Method is an incredible film. Visually it’s breathtaking, as though stepping into a late 1800’s impressionist painting. Technically sound, every aspect of mise-en-scène –beautifully bright picturesque landscapes, incredibly detailed costumes, and a powerful and informative soundtrack provided by Oscar winner Howard Shore- paint a clear picture of early twentieth century Europe. It’s stunning.
What A Dangerous Method lacks in emotional resonance is more than compensated for visually and in its insightful, informative and incredibly smart script, brought to life by such incredible talent both on camera and behind it.
David Cronenberg does not disappoint here. Whether your familiar with Sigmund Freud or/and Carl Jung or have any fascination with psychology, or not, this is a highly recommended film. It’s not only intelligent but a provocative love story that’s perhaps easier to digest than its theory based word-heavy script. So there’s plenty to draw your attention. And there’s even a giggle or two provided by Knightley’s entertaining accent.
Though it wasn’t perfect it’s a solid 8/10. Well worth a watch.