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A Dangerous Method—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
November 23, 2011 1:15 AM
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Keira Knightley-Michael Fassbender in A Dangerous Method

Can a play about personal conflicts in the nascent world of psychiatry at the turn of the 20th century be translated into an effective film? In the hands of playwright/screenwriter Christopher Hampton, director David Cronenberg, and three exceptional actors, the answer is yes. It takes some getting used to, as we don’t often see films that are so dependent on dialogue to express relationships. But if you avoid it because you don’t like “talky” dramas you will miss some of the finest performances of the year.

Michael Fassbender, whose reputation is soaring on the basis of his widely varied work this year alone, is a riveting presence as Carl Jung, the meticulous, impeccably-groomed doctor who adopts Sigmund Freud’s daring technique of talking out problems to deal with his latest patient, a Russian Jewess (Keira Knightley) suffering from extreme anxiety.

Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method

In time, he gets to meet his hero, played with perfectly-judged sangfroid by Viggo Mortensen. Freud welcomes Jung as a friend and protégé, but as the story progresses their relationship becomes strained because of the older man’s massive ego. He is unwilling to entertain any serious ideas other than his own.

A deeply troubled analyst, played by Vincent Cassel, is sent to Jung for treatment by Freud, and turns out to be a dangerous provocateur who stirs up a hornet’s nest of trouble.

A Dangerous Methodis exquisitely mounted, but it is also, for all the fire simmering underneath the surface, a placid film—except in Knightley’s opening scenes, where she is on the verge of combustion. It may be difficult to fully embrace on an emotional level, but it offers a level of intellectual stimulus we rarely get in English-language cinema.

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  • Patrick M. Gouin | January 26, 2012 3:36 PMReply

    A lovely reconstruction of Europe at the beginning of the XXth century. The characters are beautiful also. Everything is so clean, it's almost unreal. One could say too beautiful to be true. There lies my first problem with this film. The impeccable cleanliness of the sets, the whitest teeth in the close ups are not the impressions I have of that era. The action is very theatrical with lots of stiff dialogue. Finally, the other problem I have is that there is little setting up for this story. In my opinion, those who aren't very familiar with the history of psychoanalysis might have a difficult time following the story. The film does have the benefit of introducing to a new generation the story of two of history's giants: Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung. But a very shallow introduction it is. I would wait for the video release.

  • lily white | January 7, 2012 6:55 AMReply

    i like this film ,it is very interesting and i like kiera nitly.

  • Darby | December 16, 2011 9:52 AMReply

    Anyone know the answer to Tara's question? Atlanta?????

  • Tara | December 14, 2011 8:26 PMReply

    When does this movie open in Atlanta, Ga? I can't wait to see this one... Gotta love Keira~

  • Lula | December 13, 2011 2:35 AMReply

    I could not decide what I liked best about the film. It was a great idea and it was delivered on screen brilliantly. The cast was the best and Knightley deserves an award for her role in this film. Smart film all together!

  • Jane | December 3, 2011 2:45 AMReply

    I thought it was a great film and Knightley was truly exceptional as Sabina Spielrein.

  • Jarod | November 25, 2011 12:12 AMReply

    Anything directed by Cronenberg is certainly worthy of our time.

  • Jason | November 23, 2011 2:31 AMReply

    I've been looking forward to this film all year. Glad to know it's worth seeing!

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