Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Dangerous Method (2011) – Review

Review: A Dangerous Method is superbly acted, well written and engaging. The film focuses on the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud – and its catalyst, a patient of Jung’s Sabina Spielrein. Director David Cronenberg seems to be interested in the power of words, both as they pertain to Freud and Jung’s ‘Taking Cure’ psychoanalytic therapy, revolutionary at the time, and driving deeper into how words directly affect people (informing their behavior therapeutically and otherwise). Cronenberg sets up many of his scenes through the placement of his camera to play out like a power struggle (especially those between Jung and Freud), as each specifically chooses words to gain the upper hand (though the scenes with Jung and Spielrein allow put a lot of power behind the words, but to a different end). The film has little action (if any), and thus all the drama and conflict plays out through the language and delivery of the affecting words. The relationships themselves were mostly about power as well, each conversation a chess match – looking for the weakness – pitting wit against wit, ego against ego. Again, this is most notable between Jung and Freud. The film is so dependent on dialogue – but is particularly well written and played with intense concentration that the viewer is both enthralled by the intellectual side and engaged by the dramatic thug-of-war between the two men. Jung also has meaningful interaction with Spielrein and another patient Otto Gross. These two seem to shape his actions much more than Freud, which is interesting given the historical context of these men (Freud and Jung). Much more than Freud, these two seem to play off Jung’s desires, mostly through words (but in Spielrein’s case, through physicality as well). The film will not play well for all viewers as it is completely reliant on dialogue to convey all action, and these characters try to hold back their emotions as best they can (which is interesting given that the film is about psychotherapy), giving fairly subdued performances (aside from Spielrein in the opening scenes, who looks on the verge of exploding), which to an extend limits the emotional connection with the audience – but there is enough there. Themes of jealously, desire and sadness are still there, which we can all relate to. A Dangerous Method succeeds on its brilliant performances and the skill of Cronenberg to deliver a dialogue intensive film that still thoroughly engages the audience.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: David Cronenberg is one of the great cerebral directors – getting into the heads of his characters, and he is not afraid of graphic material. A Dangerous Method seems like a great departure from his typical films (given Easter Promises, A History of Violence and eXistenZ, to name but three), but given his skill set as a filmmaker he actually seems perfect for it – and the reason it turned out so well (when many plays do not work as well when done as films). Howard Shore’s score executes a different sort of role in this film, as many of the scenes were played without music which seemed (contrary to what is normally the case) to give them more impact, while the score serves as sort of an emotional bridge between truly impactful moments. Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography is good; I found the placement of the camera and the angles that Suschitzky and Cronenberg use to be interesting and different (but honestly I need another viewing to really explore how they informed my viewing – though I did feel like they were making a statement on the power struggle between Jung and Freud at times – most of their stuff is shot sort of looking down on them while Jung and Spielrein are shot more on the same level as their eyes). James McAteer’s production design is good as well, though it definitely plays a supporting role taking a backseat to the performances. Newcomer Sarah Gadon has a tough role to play as Jung’s wife Emma, as she is greatly marginalized yet still has a great impact on his life and work, and Gadon plays her well – sort of a mini breakthrough performance. Vincent Cassel is fantastic in his supporting performance. It is brief but leaves a lasting impact on the film and viewer. Viggo Mortensen is very good as Freud, capturing his pettiness and wit – giving the film some needed humor. Keira Knightley gives one of the best performances of her career (with Never Let Me Go, Atonement and Pride & Prejudice). When you first see her, it is almost too shocking and physical but she pulls it off very well. Michael Fassbender (having one of the best years I can remember – Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, Shame and this) is fantastic as well. His Jung is well groomed and confident, but also completely unraveling.

Summary & score: A Dangerous Method is potentially the best acted film of the year, making for a very good drama. 8/10

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