A Dangerous Method is I admit, beautifully shot, and though underused, Viggo Mortensen in particular plays the soft-spoken Freud with wonderful ease, control, and a hint of giddy sarcasm. Vincent Cassel also gives the film’s best 15 minutes when his Otto Gross pays a visit to Jung. But outside of these elements, the film is a remarkable disappointment that starts with director David Cronenberg.
Remember — this is the same guy who directed Crash (the good one), The Fly, and A History of Violence. Cronenberg has proven to be a master of suspense, kink, and body horror. Yet, he can’t muster enough to make a scene Fassbender spanking a topless Kiera Knightley interesting. In fact, it’s a flat out bore.
I mean, it is…interesting. But not interesting in the “Wow I’m not bored out of my mind way.” It’s interesting in the History Channel sort of way — it’s given me a desire to maybe read a few pages on Freud and Jung’s thoughts at my next trip to Barnes and Noble. But in the moment, I was not caught up with the tension between two great thinkers and the crazed woman that comes between them.
Which brings me to what is sure to be the most controversial performance of the year — Kiera Knightley, who plays Jung’s brilliant (and insane) nymphomaniac patient Sabina Spielrein. Allow me first to give credit to where credit is due. Knightley really goes all out with this portrayal — a jaw-jutting, bulging-eyed, heavy-accented, dirty-talking impression. But never in her performance did I believe I was watching Sabina or a crazed patient; I was watching Kiera Knightley acting crazy. Sublety isn’t a trait Knightley chooses to follow and I assume, Cronenberg advises against it. Because the result is one of the most blatantly obvious attempts at overacting since my role as Francis Phelan in a high school play.
I’ll concede that my expectations played into my final judgment of A Dangerous Method. But when you put together one of the greatest directors in Cronenberg in what should be his wheelhouse, expectations should met if not exceeded. And in this case, it didn’t even meet an expectation to keep me awake.