(David Cronenberg, 2011)
Theres not much trace of what most would see as typical Cronenberg in A Dangerous Method. No body horror, few disturbing ideas, no violence, either physical or psychological. Neither is this mor of the arthouse pulp of his recent collaborations with Viggo Mortensen - Eastern Promises and A History of Violence. Instead it seems far more representative of the work of its screenwriter, Christopher Hampton. Adapted from his play, "The Talking Cure", it is a classy, largely tasteful, very serious, literate and intelligent, earnest historical drama. There are flashes of Cronenberg; the subject matter allows for some investigation into the nature of insanity, and the sadomasochism in the sex scenes is made slightly edgy by virtue of bring shot in exactly the same, straightforward manner as everything else here. Cronenberg opts for a sober, classical style which verges on anonymous but remains handsome and appealingly slick throughout. An underrated quality of Cronenberg as a director is the brilliance of his storytelling, and he retains that ability here; transforming a slightly stagey, extremely talky piece into a compulsively watchable drama.
Hamptons screenplay helps, with some sparkling exchanges between it's principals. Michael Fassbinder and Mortensen play Freud and Jung in a story about their relationship and the crucial role played in it by a patient of Jungs, a hysterical young Russian Jew (Keira Knightley) who becomes his first great success, then his lover, and then a protege of Freud's in Vienna. Knightly is embarrassing, frankly, during the early scenes which depict her in the throes of hysteria - gurning, panting, feverishly working her underbite in the most contrived and "acted" manner imaginable. She grows into the part and is better later on as a mature woman with regrets and internal conflict. Fassbinder is the lead and as excellent as ever: believably intelligent, powerfully conflicted and finally bruised and tested by his experiences. Mortensen, meanwhile, portrays Freud nicely as a complex mixture of vanity, intellect, insecurity and charisma. The scenes shared by the two men fairly crackle with tension and intellectual excitement. For all that, this would be a thoroughly dry, cold pleasure were it not for the suprising power of the love story which gives the film its emotional climax.
Even so, it is quite dry, exercising the mind more than the heart. But then that isn't an entirely bad thing in a cinematic culture as dumbed-down as today's.