A Dangerous Method is a very strange film for David Cronenberg to make. He is known for making strange films with strange stories involving strange things happening, but the strangest thing about this film is that it isn’t very strange. It’s surprisingly boringly directed, with very little happening except people talking in rooms while a static camera observes the interaction. Thankfully the convincing and highly watchable performances save it from being a disaster.
The film is written by Christopher Hampton, adapted from his own stage play The Talking Cure and John Kerr’s book A Very Dangerous Method. It charts the relationship between psychoanalysts Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and the affair Jung had with one of his patients and later fellow professional Sabine Spielrein (Keira Knightley).
As I have already made clear, the movie is far from entirely successful, mostly due to Cronenberg’s decision to be deliberately un-radical with the way the drama is played out onscreen. But it must be said that there are major problems with Hampton’s screenplay. It just isn’t suited for cinema; it’s talky in a way that bores rather than compels and has no sense of pace, rhythm or excitement. Considering the characters are obsessed with talking about dark desires, sadomasochistic sex, incest and many other deviant activities, this is a very big problem.
Keira Knightley is an actress who consistently impresses me and this performance is one of her best to date. She is entirely believable and is a commanding and emotionally involving presence in the film, and does well at trying to generate the audience’s sympathy for her difficult character. Fassbender and Mortensen are also on top form, although I was shocked at how old Viggo seems to be these days. It may just be the voice he was putting on to play Freud, but it’s hard to believe this was the man who set hearts all of a flutter when he played Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Although that was, to be fair, ten years ago now.
A Dangerous Method is far from a fun picture to watch. Any humour or knowing irony that might have been produced from the situations the characters endure is stamped out before it even has time to manifest itself. It’s warmly photographed, but the cinematography won’t have you running out to pre-order your own high-def copy on Blu-ray. Overall, one can only feel slightly puzzled at why Cronenberg, master of weird horror movies and menacing crime dramas, decided to make it in such a monotonous, unimaginative way.
A Dangerous Method (2011), directed by David Cronenberg, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, certificate 15.