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review: A Dangerous Method

Friday 24 February 2012

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A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg, starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Vincent Cassel

I saw Keira Knightley on the stage a couple of years ago, in a modernisation of Moliere’s The Misanthrope. I was pleasantly surprised by her performance, though I’m not sure how much acting was required on her part, given that her role was that of an icy and slightly aloof actress… Albeit, with an American accent.

In A Dangerous Method, Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein, a young Russian woman admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Inexplicably, her accent was reminiscent at times of Celine Dion, and others seemed a kind of camp impersonation of Vladimir Putin – which doesn’t bode well for her upcoming performance in Anna Karenina.

The Irish-German Fassbender, meanwhile, plays the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung with a crisp English accent, which rather weakens Steve McQueen’s statement to the Press Association earlier this week that Fassbender is a “once in a generation actor… who can transform and transcend”. As for the American Mortensen in the role of Austrian Sigmund Freud – I’m not sure if was attempting an accent for his character, or rather trying to conceal his own.

This inconsistency in performance required a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, which might not have been a huge issue, had I not already suspended so much in enduring the other hugely flawed elements of the film.

There are moments of absolute absurdity in the film – foremost when Jung appears to psychically predict the coming of the First World War with free psychic readings , and in his frequent posturing, hands on hips, like some kind of cerebral superhero. Moreover the relationship between Jung and Spielrein strays dangerously into the (often literal) ‘bodice-ripper’.

Certainly, A Dangerous Method provides an educative and insightful entry-level explanation of Freud and Jung’s respective theories, though it did little to persuade me of their validity, and the relationship between the two men is too frequently reduced to a bravado-driven cock fight. Additionally, Cronenberg sells himself short by placing tangible sexual tension between the two men, before explaining it away as a ‘father-son’ relationship.

Visually, the film is perhaps more successful. The period is subtly and beautifully evoked, without being forced upon the viewer, and the costumes are exquisite. Furthermore, in the scenes of her psychoanalysis, Knightley is intriguing and compelling in her willingness to relinquish her beauty.

However, if the greatest praise I can give A Dangerous Method is that Keira Knightley was quite good in a corset, I can’t help but be underwhelmed.

A Dangerous Method is currently showing at Duke of Yorks Picturehouse, Preston Circus, Brighton BN1 4JD