Jan 17, 2012

Film Review: A Dangerous Method

Idle hands...
When I went to the theater to see A Dangerous Method, the newest achievement from David Cronenberg, I expected to leave with a clear positive review – A History of Violence and Eastern Promises are two of my favorite films, and here Cronenberg is, teaming up with
Viggo Mortensen again. Instead, I find myself conflicted, still unable to process my thoughts. The film, which centers around the friendship and colleague camaraderie of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) and the treatment of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a possibly schizophrenic scholar with sado-masochistic sexual desire, the repression and misunderstanding of which has driven her to lunacy. Jung tries to understand her illness through talking therapy, which is seen as radical (though it is what we now consider to be the backbone of modern psycho-analysis).

The film is wonderfully shot and brilliantly acted (except for Vincent Cassel, who is a bit too arch, and his wide-set eyes constantly remind me of Admiral Ackbar, which is distracting). Still, the movie feels empty, devoid of emotion despite taking great pains to explore emotions, repressed or otherwise. It feels very staid, very British. Too composed when it should be rough around the edges, violent and dangerous (wordplay!). The closest the film comes to this is in the opening credits, where pen strokes cut across the film canvas, creating schisms, silhouettes, and a strange, slanted-reflection effect. If only the film had lived up to the promise of the first frames.

Knightley, acting
One unimpeachable aspect of the film, though, is Knightley, who gives her best performance to date. While the rest of the cast stays hidden behind their historically accurate glass-frames and prosthetic noses, Knightley jumps out of the film. Her manic motions and jittery vibrations make her at first comical but soon magnetic, her tiny frame and her skeletal face and arms only enhancing her vibrancy. Her Sabina is refreshing in this sometimes dull film, her eyes glowing with feverish desire. She is an uncontrollable yet highly astute and self-aware individual. Gone are the Knightley-trademark arched eyebrows and pouty lips that have made me grow ambivalent to her over the years. This is an actress who has reemerged as a powerhouse. It’s unfortunate that she won’t be honored for such a commanding role. When she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Pride and Prejudice, it was a weak year for female performances. Now, she’s giving a much stronger performance in a year filled with amazing female performances (half of which came from Jessica Chastain), and she will get no recognition whatsoever. Still, pat yourself on the back, Keira Knightley. We will now collectively forget your ghastly performance in The Duchess.

All-in-all, while the movie may lack in vibrancy or animation, there is a single character willing to bring it forth and examine the pomposity of the film around her. It's captivating to watch.

Film grade: B-
Knightley grade: A
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