If only the movie was just about hats and facial hair …


Theatrical Release Date: 11/23/2011 (LA & NY)
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon
Rated: R for sexual content and brief language.
Runtime: 1 hour, 39 minutes


Trailer:

My study smells of rich mahogany.

Tell me about your mother.

Huh. With no context that’s really creepy. Even knowing it’s a characterization of something Sigmund Freud would say doesn’t help much. However, for all you psychology majors out there who’ve wanted to see a bit behind the curtain of both Freud and Carl Jung, and don’t like reading books, there’s director David Cronenberg’s take on things, “A Dangerous Method”.

In the film, Jung (Michael Fassbender) is enamored with the idea of psychoanalysis as championed by Freud (Viggo Mortensen). After taking on Sabina, a troubled patient played by Keira Knightley, and treating her with talk therapy, the two psychologists begin a working relationship … and slowly drift apart in their theoretical approach … and then Jung and Sabina have an affair … and then they split up … and then Jung and Freud have a big falling out … and then Jung and Sabina work together on a case study … and then another half explored plot point … and then another … etc, etc.

Before dissecting the issues within the storytelling, the good element to take away from it all is watching the three main actors on-screen. Fassbender is all over the screen this year (“X-Men: First Class“, “Shame“, “Jane Eyre“) and continues his streak of excellent performances. Any issues with his portrayal are with the script, not in his delivery. The same goes with Mortensen, and although more of a supporting player, makes the most of his time on-screen.

The big surprise is Knightley. While some elements drift into the over-acting category, it’s a generally solid acting job. A result of the effects of severe physical abuse perpetrated upon her character growing up, a number of tics and stammers are exhibited (not to mention an accent that holds most of the time thankfully). She handled most of it well, though amongst those tics is an occasional jutting out of the jaw that may be the creepiest image on screen in some time.

All three do suffer from time to time the phenomena of making it look like acting, but again, the script and direction seem to be more at fault for this. The story is half character study and half bio-pic. From the manner in which things unfold, it’s almost as if Cronenberg and screenwriter Christopher Hampton were fighting the entire time about what kind of movie it was – never reaching a balance for the audience’s sake.

There is a nice cameo by Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross, which injects some much-needed energy into the middle section of the film. Gross’ interactions with Jung move the plot forward but whatever good that does is forgotten as quickly as his character, which disappears from screen almost before he arrives.

Also not helping matters is some of the worst editing of the year. As reels changed, usually coinciding with a jump forward in time, the shift was so abrupt that one wondered if the film was put together out of order. Skipping forward so often made each segment feel like we were starting anew, having to figure out the dynamics between the characters all over again – just beginning to get a hold of things – only to push ahead another year or two.

And while the score was generally discordant, possibly by design, there is a key production element to give praise to: the costume design. It must have been period authentic … because it was all so drab and awful looking. Short of the dapper threads sported by Mortensen, everyone else seemed to have raided the local high school theater department’s closet.

Part of being so dispassionate about the film is knowing the director’s capabilities. Had this come from some unknown entity, it merely would have been a forgettable blip on the radar; from Cronenberg it’s a let down. Having a few paragraphs of on-screen text close out the proceedings only exacerbates the confusion over what the point of the film was in the first place and adds to the mystery of why he would take such a formulaic approach to such well-known historical figures. A 2.5 out of 5, “A Dangerous Method” sports occasional bouts of good acting and the first half holds promise but once the bio-pic mentality sets in, all one can do is find a comfortable sitting position and wait for the end credits.

2.5 out of 5