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Monday, 21 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - A Dangerous Method

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Produced by: Jeremy Thomas
Tiana Alexandra

Screenplay by: Christopher Hampton

Based on: The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton (stage play)
A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr (non-fiction)

Starring: Keira Knightley
Michael Fassbender
Viggo Mortensen
Vincent Cassel

Music by: Howard Shore

Cinematography by: Peter Suschitzky

Editing by: Ronald Sanders

Studio(s): Recorded Picture Company
Telefilm Canada

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Release date(s): September 2, 2011 (68th Venice International Film Festival)
February 10, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 99 minutes

Country(s): Germany
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: €15 million

Box office revenue: $27, 462, 041

Alright folks, we're getting gradually closer to the end of my reviews for December (I know!), and following this one, I've got ones for Argo and Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai to finish us out for the long reviews for the year. A review of the month will follow, and after that I will do (for schedule sake) short capsule reviews for January. My year-end awards are coming up, and 2012 has proven to be an interesting year for film, so, for all the shebang, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie is the second (first released) David Cronenberg film to pass before my gaze this year, A Dangerous Method. Now, my criteria is normally that I don't include a movie that was up for recognition last award season, but it only got one major award nomination (for Viggo Mortensen), and frankly, the Golden Globes are to the Academy Awards what The Sun is to The Sunday Times, so I'll make an exception. Also, it came out on February 10th, 2012, so it was after my cutoff point and no way for me to review it, so, as Lee Daniels would say "Shushy!" For those of you who don't know, I'm a huge fan of David Cronenberg, from the body horror period that produced classics such as The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly and Dead Ringers, to his recent work as a dramatist, working with Viggo Mortensen on A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises. As such, even though I'm trying to an objective reviewer, as a fan I was salivating at the prospect of two new films in twelve months. I saw Cosmopolis earlier on in the year, and while it was flawed and rather plodding in parts, it was an interesting and experimental entry into the great director's oeuvre. A Dangerous Method is a historical drama set on the eve of World War I, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) arrives at the Burghozli psychiatric hospital in Zurich as a case of hysteria, to begin a course of treatment with the young Swiss doctor Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). With intelligence and energy recognised by Jung, he allows her to assist him in providing empirical data as a scientific basis for psychoanalysis and to ameliorate a number of the more sensationalistic theories. During this time, Jung gets in contact with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who, finding in Jung a sort-of kindred spirit, adopts him as the heir apparent of psychoanalysis. There's your 'brief' plot synopsis, and as you can imagine, things get a wee bit twisty and turny along the way, so let's get down to the review!

Starting with the good regarding A Dangerous Method, it must be said that it's a splendidly-acted film. Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen are both chameleonic actors, and they apply their shared trait to Jung and Freud. Never once do you not buy them as these psychologists, and even though not much 'action' happens between them, the conversations between Jung/Fassbender and Freud/Mortensen are full of energy and ideas. Also strong, though in a lesser capacity, is Vincent Cassel, who plays Otto Gross. Serving as a believable foil to Fassbender, Cassel's charisma and presence ensure that the 'character' of Gross is not just a two-dimensional bohemian and that there is a solid bit of weight to his relatively short screen-time. The standout performance of the film however belongs to Keira Knightley. Holding her own against the heavyweights Fassbender and Mortensen, Knightley carries herself with confidence and shows herself once again as no slouch in the acting department. Not only is her diction spot on, her facial expressiveness and ability to manipulate them is quite something. In the opening treatment scene, Knightley looks like she is in the process of separating her own jaw, but this isn't overt acting, as the character's arc is depicted subtly and is one of minute details. Another strong element of A Dangerous Method is the overall mise-en-scene. The movie was made on a (relatively) low-budget, but this doesn't hamper the believability of the period setting. Although the actors' contribution can't be denied, neither can the costume and make-up/hair departments in ensuring that we buy this story. These departments juggle two different purposes, in that not only do they match appropriately the period setting, but also that they serve the purpose of the story. Also, the sets made by the production designers are very good, not feeling stagey, and we do feel as though this fabricated universe does exists. It's quite a testament to the skills of those involved in establishing this mise-en-scene that they are able to combat potential budgetary restraints. Also, Cronenberg regulars Peter Suschitzky and Ronald Sanders' cinematography and editing work well in conjunction with one another, and as such A Dangerous Method is almost always a good-looking film. Finally, no one can ever accuse David Cronenberg of going into a film half-assed. As proved with the good but flawed Cosmopolis, he is a brilliant auteur at a fascinating stage in his career. He knows that even with all the thematic content lying underneath, he has to make an entertaining movie. This, like most of Cronenberg's oeuvre, is under one-hundred minutes, and keeping things as tight as possible is a wise move, as we do not get much of an opportunity to be bored. Cronenberg always directs with conviction, and exudes the control of a master with A Dangerous Method.

Which is a good thing, because although I liked A Dangerous Method very much, it does have a number of key flaws. The major problem is the script by Christopher Hampton. Now, I know it's adapted from his own stage play, but it's not that it feels like a stage play, no, it's that bizarrely it feels like something that should have been made for television to be shown in two or three parts. As a result, it lacks the distinctively cinematic feel of most of Cronenberg's films. Also, criticism has been levelled towards what Cronenberg calls the deliberately "quite clinical" sex scenes, and I must say I agree. He made a very good point, about how they were studying each others reactions even while having sex, but if you look at Cronenberg's back catalogue, it is steeped in eroticism. Indeed, I would present his own Dead Ringers as my rebuttal. In that movie, the protagonist twin gynaecologists Elliot and Beverley Mantle (played by Jeremy Irons) are constantly studying each other's behaviour, yet it manages to feel incredibly erotic and passionate. I know it's an artistic decision, but I feel that this clinical side doesn't work. Also, the arcs, though well-realised by the actors, are terribly cliched and can be spotted a mile off. We've seen this done before many's a time, and frankly, in better movies.

Though it has misdirection in the sex scenes and a flawed script, A Dangerous Method is a solid and consistent movie from David Cronenberg. The acting is uniformly splendid, but in a overall great cast, Keira Knightley delivers the stand-out performance. Also, despite the relatively low-budget, it's a well-established mise-en-scene, with the costume and make-up/hair departments doing as much as the actors to realise their characters, and the production design establishes the believability of the period setting. Regulars Peter Suschitzky and Ronald Sanders (cinematography and editing respectively) work well in conjunction with one another, and while it is occasionally misdirected, no one can accuse Cronenberg of going into a movie half-assed. I mean, when he tackled what to others would be an ordinary crime thriller, we got Eastern Promises. Although it is not an outstanding film, A Dangerous Method is more consistent than Cosmopolis, and is a solid addition into Cronenberg's back catalogue.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bored (I'm the chairman of the board. Hello, Iggy!)

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