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A clinical approach to A Dangerous Method






DIRECTED BY David Cronenberg

STARS Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender

As part of his four-score from 2011, Michael Fassbender turns up in A Dangerous Method as Carl Jung, the Swiss doctor often deemed the father of modern psychology. Watching him tackle Jung as a cautious, conflicted man, it's hard to see the same person who was so brooding in Jane Eyre, so, uh, magnetic in X-Men: First Class, and so raw in Shame. Yes, there's a reason so many of us think Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender sounds a helluva lot better than, say, Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill.

But I digress. A Dangerous Method, directed with uncharacteristic understatement by David Cronenberg, examines the linked destinies of three formidable individuals through roughly the first two decades of the 20th century. There's Jung, of course, initially coming into his own armed with theories that hadn't really been explored before (among them the idea of the collective unconscious). There's Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), the penis-envy proponent who serves as Jung's mentor until their philosophies ultimately take them down divergent paths. Finally, there's the largely (and unjustly) forgotten Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who goes from being Jung's patient to his lover to, finally, a renowned psychologist in her own right.

An intelligent movie about intelligent people, A Dangerous Method finds most of its verbal jousts in the capable hands of both Fassbender and Mortensen, the latter portraying Freud as an unbending stuffed shirt who nevertheless manages to maintain a touch of the impious about him. Less successful is Knightley: Jutting out her jaw to a frightening degree in the early scenes when Sabina is swallowed by her own hysterics — I was afraid the poor actress was going to dislocate the thing — she seems to have confused suffering with showboating, and while she becomes more believable as the film progresses, she never fully blends into the period setting as effectively as she did in Pride and Prejudice.

For all its strengths (for starters, Howard Shore's score is exquisite), A Dangerous Method never becomes much more than a pleasant watch, with its studied formalism preventing viewers from ever truly connecting to these characters' situations. Just because the setting is clinical doesn't mean the film itself needs to follow suit.

Go here for a look at the 10 Best & 10 Worst Films of 2011.

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