Review: A Dangerous Method

This feels like a walk through the vacated domain where a David Cronenberg film once stood. All the fixtures and fittings are there – the cold, analytical feel, the slow pacing, the creepy score by Howard Shore – but in the middle of it is a complete void.

David Cronenberg's films have always been a tug-of-war between his deliberate, almost comatose style and the jarring, shocking content.

Like a psychiatrist he wants to lull you into a restful state where you are more suggestible and responses to his uneasy visions are heightened.

It is a daring method, and it required a delicate balancing act trying to hold the audience's attention. For example, I like his flawed adaptation of Naked Lunch but I've never made it through without dropping off for a few minutes – and that's got Mugwumps, bug typewriters and William Tell sharp shooting in it.

This historical drama about Freud and Jung and the birth of psychiatry only offers rather dry dialogue and a bit of spanking.

Set in the decade before the First World War, Christopher Hampton's script, based on his own play, recreates the early relationship between Freud and Jung.

Freud (Viggo Mortensen) sees the young Jung (Michael Fassbender) as his successor until Jung starts to question his obsession with sex. Meanwhile, Jung starts to take a detailed interest in the case of a psychotic young Russian, Sabina Spielrein (Kiera Knightley), who has numerous daddy issues.

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The original play was called The Talking Cure and you'd guess that barely a line has been cut. They talk and talk and talk, but to no real end. It's a fascinating subject but this never coalesces into compelling drama.

The movie feels like the dramatic reconstruction scenes from a BBC4 programme, but without the documentary bits where their relevance is explained.

The 19-year age gap between Fassbender and Mortensen mirrors that between their characters, but does not translate on screen. Mortensen's indecent youthfulness nullifies the effect of any aging prosthetics and make-up. They are as solid as you'd expect but seemed burdened by the weight of dialogue.

As the third part of the triangle Knightley's performance is brave, bordering on calamitous.

With a wandering Russian accent, bulging eyes, jutting chin and throwing herself into frequent psychotic episodes she resembles a Chekhovian sister succumbing to the urge to do a Norman Wisdom impression.


Director: David Cronenberg

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel and Sarah Gabon

Length: 99 mins