out of Five
Running time: 99
Sharply written and superbly directed, this is an engaging and thought-provoking drama with terrific performances from all three leads, though it runs out of steam a little in the middle section and the climax is underwhelming.
What's it all about?
Directed by David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method is based on the stage play by Christopher Hampton (The Talking Cure) and stars Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, an up-and-coming psycho-analyst in 1904 Zurich who decides to test Freud's controversial “talking cure” on beautiful, deeply disturbed Russian patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Incredibly the cure works and soon Sabina is expressing a desire to become a psychoanalyst herself, while, as a result of his success, Jung travels to Vienna and begins a working friendship with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who, in turn, comes to see Jung as his disciple and the heir to his ideas.
However, when Freud sends sex-obsessed patient Otto Gross (a scene-stealing Vincent Cassel) to Jung for treatment, Otto's outspoken ideas about desire have a strong effect on Jung and he soon begins a passionate affair with Sabina that involves lots of spanking. As a result, Jung's evolving ideas lead to tension in both his relationships with Freud and his wealthy wife Emma (Sarah Gadon).
The performances are excellent: Fassbender and Mortensen are perfectly complemented as Jung and Freud and their fiercely intellectual relationship forms the heart of the film as they shift from father-figure and devoted acolyte to rivalry. That said, though their constant debating of ideas is both fascinating and thought-provoking, the most enjoyable moments occur in the little details, such as Freud correcting Jung on the name of his theory or the look on Freud's face when they travel to America together and Jung informs him that he's travelling first class because his wife booked the passage.
Knightley is equally good (though your mileage may vary) as Sabina, delivering an impressively physical, full-on performance that's frightening and heart-breaking at the same time. This works because after she's supposedly cured you're constantly aware of what lurks beneath her fragile surface, which gives her affair with Jung a powerful level of tension.
Cronenberg directs with a formally dry, uncomplicated style throughout, which only serves to heighten the film's origins as a stage play. Similarly, the plot rather runs out of steam in the middle section – not enough dramatic weight is given to the central affair, so Keira's character is off screen for too long and you long for her to return and shake things up a bit.
This is an engaging and thought-provoking drama with terrific performances from all three leads, though it doesn't quite deliver the emotional punch you're hoping for.