Wednesday 26 October 2011

Review: A Dangerous Method

Year: 2011
Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: Christopher Hampton
Starring: Micheal Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Kiera Knightley

For my second (and unfortunately last) film at the LFF, I was quite taken back when; for the screening of A Dangerous Method, we were greeted by one David Cronenberg. So surprised was I, that in trying to take a picture of the great man I only got blurry images. I was a little bit gutted as if I had known that there was a chance of seeing the filmmaker I would have set up my camera properly as opposed to the nonsense I took. This is yet again, something else to log down on my list of shame.

Shame is something that rears it's head within the DNA of A Dangerous Method as the pivotal character of the film Sabina (Knightley) is wrought with it. Carried to hospital kicking, screaming and giggling manically; she is brought to the attention of Dr Carl Jung (Fassbender). It is he, who decides to use the method of "talking cure" from his friend and mentor Dr Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) to try and find the foundation of her sickness. This action correlates and intensifies as the young practice of  psychoanalysis slowly grows from the relationships formed.

Martyn Conterio; founder of the wonderful film site Cinemart (can you spot the cheap plug), mentioned to me that he considers A Dangerous Method to be the quintessential Cronenberg. I'm not so sure. To me it's clearly one fascinating (and talky) part of a grander overture of his themes (repressed sexuality, the body at fault from the inside), especially in this section of his career, where it is the mind that is diseased (Spider = memory, Eastern Promises and A History of violence = personality and character) and yet there is a dryness in the film that is difficult to shake off. Cronenberg himself stated at the beginning that it is up to us to decide whether we consider the film good or bad. I indeed liked whats going on but considering previous efforts I was surprised how cold the film felt.

Many of the films scenes involves our three leads, hashing things out calmly with analysis and talk (sprinkled liberally with some light S&M), that nearly always end as a revelation or small discovery for each of the characters. Scenes are presented stylishly with many a face in extreme close up, conversing with someone else further back, mimicking Freuds "talking cure". It is obvious that these conversations shared are councilling sessions or as you could consider in Jungs case (much to Freuds disgust) confessionals with characters discussing their moods, methods and reasoning in such an analytical way that you are constantly held at a distance. Sometimes, it's a tad too much.

Cronenbergs film is very restrained, which is fair enough as we don't need exploding heads. However, considering the pedigree of the director at hand, the amount film holds back, diminishes much of the impact that could have had. In comparison to Spider; which did so well in making sure that the main character's surroundings, became his own personal circle of hell, you get the feeling that we could have got even more with this than we receive.

The film's main strengths are in it's casting. Mortensen strangely feels like how I would expect Freud to be despite never seeing a moving image. His cool wit, help defuse some of the film slightly when it wonders into it's pondering a little too deeply. Fassbender is fine here however with word coming from journalists about his second turn with Steven McQueen, and from what I've seen in other features (I love him in Fish Tank) I once again expected the world from him. Here, he is a little distilled. Knightley plays a character that I feel some will find frustrating at first, although she becomes stronger as the film continues on. It's her arc which is the strongest. Some of the films stronger scenes rely of Sabina's hold on the rigid form of Freud and the slightly more emotionally conflicted Jung. This isn't just the female as the prize and Knightley almost straddles both positions of damaged and healer, although her "mania" (all jutted out jaws and arching arms) feels slightly cartoonish at times. This is still a brave endeavour from a girl who is more believable here as a psychiatrist, than a pirate. 

For me, A Dangerous Method; much like Crash holds you at such an arms length that it's not as engaging as one would hope for. A late emotional moment caught later on, involving Jung sits awkwardly with the rest of the films goings on. The film feels most at home with a charming little conversation with Fassbender and a quick cameo from Vincent Cassell. The conversation involves sexual liberation by breaking past the social constraints we've built up for ourselves. With Cassell playing the devil on shoulder, the idea that allowing total expression and response from sexual pleasure and bypassing the our human rules harks us back to a young Cronenberg playing with sex slugs in Shivers making similar points with cheaper special effects. Despite the response not being as strong, it's interesting to see how the mighty have evolved.

Note: I really loved how the title itself means more than it lets on and can be applied in a variety of ways. Ebert mentions the same aspect much more eloquently about A History of Violence. Also it was interesting how the title cards were presented to us a similar approach was used in Spider. Nothing major just some observations.