Saturday, 3 March 2012

FILM REVIEW: A Dangerous Method

So, A Dangerous Method hasn't exactly had the most favourable reviews since premiering at Venice last year, and following a stint at the London Film Festival. "Dry" came up quite often, as did "Keira Knightley - what a brave performance". But, despite that, I went into the film with an open mind. I don't mind a talky-talky film, I like David Cronenberg, I think Viggo Mortensen is a fantastic actor. But sometimes you can't fight the crowd, and if everyone's saying it then they usually have a point: A Dangerous Method is a horrible faux pas.

Set in Switzerland around the turn of the First World War, burgeoning doctor Carl Jung (the Fassbender) takes in a new patient, Sabina Spielrein (Knightley) who has been admitted with violent attacks of schizophrenic behaviour. Jung attempts to 'cure' her with his new treatment method, "the talking method", believing just speaking to her in single sessions he can get to the root of her disturbed state. It works, and as Jung becomes more respected in his field it leads to a meeting and friendship with the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Moretensen) who discuss their theories at length, both in person and in long letters. But when Freud sends Jung a new patient to treat, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), Jung's now professional relationship with student Sabina tips over into desire - should he give in to pleasure or repress his feelings? His actions not only hurt his wife Emma (Sarah Gadon) and Sabina, but also damages his friendship with Freud.

I make the above sound like a plausible and enticing storyline when in reality, who knows what Cronenberg was trying to do with this film. Was it about the affair between Jung and Spielrein? Was it about the personal struggles of the man? Was it about his friendship with Freud? Or was it actually all about the development of psychoanalysis? The film is so scattered, so vacuous it's as if someone has attacked it with a giant hole punch. Cronenberg delves a little into here, jumps forward two years, then we get a little of something else, before shifting around again, now it's a completely different storyline, some dodgy CGI on a ferry, more changes, then we seem to be back at the point we left half an hour ago... it's just so lacking in atmosphere, tension and most of all coherence that it's impossible to engage. I understand the 'dry' comment, but completely identify with critics who have called it 'stiff and rigid' - there's no fluidity at all here, just scenes stapled together in chronological orderwith gaping holes in between. We dot about so much there's no space (ironically) for character development or growth - we're told the key events and the rest is just skipped over.

The cast, I wouldn't go as far as to say are miscast, but given they are playing such iconic figures the Oscars could have been all over them if they hadn't resulted in caricatures. Michael Fassbender who is a terrific actor just beginning to establish himself certainly looked the part, but is weak and lacks a presence on the screen - he is paled by Mortensen, who though not at his best, is still cajoling and watchable as Freud. Fassbender even slips into pantomime occasionally - a moment near the start of the film when he tells Sabina he is going away for a couple of weeks to do military service, and then in the next scene he's opening her door, putting his hands on his hips and declaring, "I'm back!" At this point I abruptly let out an audible giggle (he looks so much like Jude Law in those tiny little glasses as well - at least it didn't reach those levels of bad). Knightley is better later on when she can be poised and accurate in period drama, but her accent was off-putting - though not as off-putting as her bizarre interpretation of body spasms when she's mid breakdown. She jutted out her chin so much I thought she was going to undergo ape metamorphosis. Stop with the wriggling and get your lines out!

A few worthy mentions: loved the music - it's sparingly used, and the silence didn't help the static feel of the scenes: I wish they'd included it more. Generally this didn't feel like a Cronenberg film at all, but there were a few promising scenes: watching the patients' reaction to a Wagner opera, Freud's collapse, and the burst of violence from Sabina when she tries to get Jung to reveal the truth about their relationship. But more often than not it was low-key, and a bit stuffy.

A huge disappointment for me, as I had led myself to believe it couldn't be all that bad. But A Dangerous Method made me want to throw my hands up in the air, bemoan everyone involved in this awful mishap of a film, and run home so I could watch A History of Violence on DVD again just to calm me down. I wouldn't bother if I were you (and I wish I was). I can't believe it was worse than The Descendants!

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