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A Dangerous Method movie poster

A Dangerous Method Movie Review

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Review by Nathan Samdahl (B)

A Dangerous Method tells the seductive tale of Dr. Carl Jung's (played by Michael Fassbender) obsession with Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightly), a mentally troubled yet beautiful patient he takes under his wing.  Throughout his work with Sabina, Jung forms a relationship and butts heads with the master in his field, Sigmond Freud (Viggo Mortensen), over what each sees as cracks in the other's ideology.

David Cronenberg succeeds in pulling together a great cast, which delivers strong performances all around.  The drawback - while I have not seen the play on which the film is based (Christopher Hampton, who did Atonement, wrote both the play and the film's adaptation) - is that the filmmakers struggle at times with finding engaging ways to translate the story to the screen. 

For instance, after Jung and Freud's first in person encounter, which quickly establishes a schism in their ideologies, much of their interactions are told through montage letter writing sequences.  At first, this back and forth is somewhat amusing, but the technique grows a bit tiresome particularly when Jung and Freud's arguments reach a fever pitch.  Historically, their geographic distance may have been accurate, but cinematically it plays a bit passive.

The story's progression covering the years of 1904 to 1913 also experiences some rocky plotting.  In the beginning, Sabina's hysteria is so severe that she literally can barely control her body.  As Jung works his magic Sabina improves, yet her transition from raving lunatic to intelligent mistress of Jung feels quite rushed.  I wanted to see more of Jung's dangerous method explicitly at work on Sabina (or on other patients) rather than him talking about it in broad terms.  More doing, less talking.

The film does deliver some individually excellent and subtle scenes such as Jung's conversations with fellow psychiatrist and incoming patient Otto Gross (played by Vincent Cassel, who is seriously short changed on screen time).  The moments between Jung and Freud also are steeped in delicious tension (when they are actually in the same room, at least).

For a film starring one of my favorite actors, Michael Fassbender, you can't go too wrong here, but I would be surprised if the film is a real contender in any category come award season.  I think Fassbender's performance in Shame will be the one to watch. 

A Dangerous Method leaves you wanting more, both in its storytelling and in the story itself.  Cronenberg's rather plain, and I hate to say, dull visual aesthetic, which has held back his last two films as well (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence), is also at play here.  All these elements together equal a good film, but not one that will leave a lasting impact.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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