EXPECTATIONS: David Cronenberg applies the Dead Ringers formula -- twin doctors descending into a hell of their own creation -- to a fictionalized retelling of the Jung/Freud rivalry that changed the face of modern psychotherapy? Yeah, I'm PUMPED.
REALITY: OK, maybe I jumped the gun a bit. A Dangerous Method is a good film, but it suffers the same flaw as The Skin I Live In: The director shows too much restraint, too much class, in telling a story that deserves the most lurid treatment possible.
I mean, when your film starts with Keira Knightley acting like a mad hatter, jaw thrust out in a horrific contortion of the human face as she howls like an animal about all of the awful things in her life, you're dealing with melodrama. Cronenberg should know this by now; hell, he's given more lurid treatment to classier subjects (Eastern Promises comes to mind). But nooooo, apparently adapting a respectable play kicks your film to the next level, an echelon of film that's deserving of the Merchant-Ivory treatment.
Knightley's stark, raving lunatic is Sabina Spielrein, who reconciles her abusive past with masochistic tendencies and eventually drives a philosophical wedge between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his protégé, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender).
God, that cigar sure is just a cigar.
When I say A Dangerous Method is a good film, I mean it's a frequently fascinating film that nonetheless feels like second-rate Cronenberg, like a facsimile of a facsimile of a Cronenberg film. The ingredients are there -- psychosexual horror, dueling ideologies, Viggo -- but the cake didn't turn out quite right.
Fassbender, Mortensen and, to a lesser extent, Knightley do their part to elevate the material, but at the end of the day, for better or worse, A Dangerous Method is a hermetically sealed period drama about characters talking and maybe having sex, with all of the energy of a filmed play -- which, of course, it is. It's odd that I'd wind up reviewing this the same week that I review Shame, because Shame, while dealing with vaguely similar subject matter, is clearly the superior film for many reasons, one of which being continuity of character.
Sabina's transformation from hysterical patient to relatively well-spoken psychologist is so inexplicable, so damn jarring, I have to wonder what was taken out in the editing bay. Knightley's initial appearance is feral and frightening, but like the film itself, she eventually grows manners and becomes substantially less interesting. All of this would be well and good, of course, if A Dangerous Method were visually exciting or cinematic, but aside from its gorgeous costume design (props to Denise Cronenberg for expanding her costuming repertoire here) and a sterile prettiness, A Dangerous Method has all the cinematic wonder of your average made-for-HBO film. That isn't to say HBO films can't be great, but that A Dangerous Method is on the level of Kinsey when it comes to the artistry of it all.
I really hope Cronenberg gets a chance to remake this into A Dangerous Method 2.0 because the promise is greater than the final product, and O, what promise this premise holds.
|Viggo Smoking Cigars Like They're Going Out of Fashion||10/10|
|As Far as Cronenberg Films Go||0/10|
MINORITY REPORT: I hope Cronenberg, Mortensen and Fassbender reunite for more films about great minds sparring with one another. I'd love to see Fassbender as JRR Tolkien shouting down Mortensen's ludicrous ideas about Narnia. - Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade
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