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New York Film Festival 2011 Entry #3 - Quickie Review Of David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method"

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act October 6, 2011 at 2:27AM

Alright... moving right along. As I promised, here are my brief thoughts on David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method; might do a fuller review closer to its general release date (November 23rd) after I've seen it again, and had more time to ponder it.
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Alright... moving right along. As I promised, here are my brief thoughts on David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method; might do a fuller review closer to its general release date (November 23rd) after I've seen it again, and had more time to ponder it.

I really wanted to like this more - much more than I actually did. David Cronenberg directing Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, and Vincent Cassell? I’m there almost every damn time, regardless of the subject matter. These are actors, and a director I have immense respect for, given their past work.

But it didn't take long into the film for my buzz-kill to happen, when one of the its central characters (Sabina Spielrein) played by Keira Knightley, was introduced. I think she's miscast here. To be honest, I haven’t seen much of the young actress’ work, so I’m not informed enough to offer critique of her acting abilities; but she was more of a distraction, especially in the early scenes depicting her character's hysteria, in which Knightley overly writhes and cowers, playing opposite a rather stiff Fassbender.

And the fact that she’s in just about every 3rd scene hindered my ability to finally and fully settle into the experience of watching and appreciating the work; although, to her credit, the material is challenging, and she does fare well enough in some later sequences.

The story is based on real life events – the early days of psychoanalysis, and the falling-out of Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Fassbender) over a hysterical patient who would later become Sabina Spielrein, one of the first female psychoanalysts. It’s a combined character study as well as a history lesson, covering the 9 or so year period, from 1904 to 1913, that these characters were introduced to one another, *intermingled*, and eventually grew apart, both physically as well as in ideological thought.

And if you’re not already somewhat familiar with the material, a second viewing might be necessary to fully grasp the ideas that are introduced and dissected here.

It’s what I’d call an intelligent film; smart and dialogue-heavy, with no real moments to chew and digest it all. So you’re forced to listen intently, so as to ensure that you’re following all the critical threads! If anything, that alone should help keep you engaged. But it might also be frustrating to the impatient. Although this is also what I'd call an adult film - not necessarily in terms of its depictions of sexuality (although there are a few *risque* scenes), but rather the fact that it requires a mature mind to appreciate.

I did expect it to be far more darker and even dare I say, dangerous, to borrow from the film’s title. It's quite cold and even sterile. I would have preferred something that really delved into the grit and grime of it all. After all we're talking psychoanalysis. Cronenberg did mention during the Q&A that followed that his intention was to present a work that was as true to the real-life events and characters it's based on, and so maybe what's on screen is indeed an accurate depiction of the real-life drama the film highlights. But, while it’s certainly “well-dressed,” as one of my colleagues put it in a conversation that followed after the screening, with mostly wonderfully subtle performances from Fassbender and Mortensen notably, the film is maybe Cronenberg’s safest, and least provocative, despite such deliciously dangerous subject matter having to do with the entanglement of the psychological with the physical.

I was actually surprised at how often I chuckled. It’s definitely not a comedy, although there are certainly some comedic moments – mostly intentional; not the hysterical kind; subtle. However, considered from another angle altogether, especially with Knightley’s Acting (note the capital “A”), Mortensen’s nose prosthetic (aiding him in disappearing into his role as Freud), and Fassbender’s deadpan earnestness, one could watch this film and see a farce instead.

It’s at times too stodgy – overly formal and pompous; Fassbender and Mortensen certainly seem to be having a good time portraying these men of psychoanalytics legend.

So, for me, it was a mixed bag. I didn’t love it (certainly won’t be on my Cronenberg short list), but I didn’t despise it either. I was engaged in moments, but did peek at my watch once or twice.

I just expected something quite different, and not so ordinary. The acting is its strength. With a different cast, this could have been some tedious melodrama. And Cronenberg realizes that he needs to allow the work to happen in front of the camera, with seemingly little technically to distract.

See it if it opens in your city.

That's it!

I see the much-talked about Shame tomorrow morning at 10am; Michael Fassbender stars in that as well, so a coup for him during awards season this year. I'll aim to review that film soon thereafter. Also, I owe you a review of Sleeping Sickness.

This article is related to: Film Festival


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