Never exactly thrilling but never dull, A Dangerous Method is perhaps a film of too much precision.
One of the most enjoyable things about A Dangerous Method is director David Cronenberg’s cunning casting: the sexually charismatic Michael Fassbender plays an uncomfortably buttoned-down Carl Jung, while the stoic Viggo Mortensen revels in the egotistical magnetism of his cigar-chewing Sigmund Freud.
Back at the dawn of the twentieth century, Jung and Freud took their first steps into the uncharted territory of psychoanalysis. They called it ‘the talking cure’. And fittingly, A Dangerous Method is a rare antidote to modern cinema’s many flailing spectacles.
But it opens with its most hysterical scene, as Keira Knightley arrives at Jung’s clinic in Zurich as the ranting, convulsing 18-year-old Sabina Spielrein. It’s Knightley’s boldest performance yet – biting hard on a Russian accent and jutting out that famous jaw – although one that doesn’t have the compulsive accuracy of her male co-stars.
Cronenberg has long been fascinated with the seismic forces of sexual desire. But as Jung finds himself locked in a complex love/hate relationship with both Spielrein (patient, lover, colleague) and Freud (idol, mentor, rival), A Dangerous Method remains cool to the touch. Even the sight of Fassbender handing out a Knightley spanking carries little erotic heat.
In fact, it’s the cerebral heavy-petting between Jung and Freud that’s top-shelf: a battle of wills that’s engrossing and surprisingly funny. Fassbender is smart and uncertain. Mortensen is sly, powerful and mightily bearded.
Having previously written heavyweight adaptations of Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement and The Quiet American, Christopher Hampton sculpts an immensely literate script that Cronenberg cruises through with confidence. Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky’s visuals are every bit as intelligent, precise and convincing.
Never exactly thrilling but never dull, A Dangerous Method is perhaps a film of too much precision. Still, it’s enlivened by a leading duo who give everything by holding back.
Spank you very much.
Cooler and calmer than expected.
Infinitely assured moviemaking.