A Dangerous Method: directed by David Cronenberg; written by Christopher Hampton
I could not help but chuckle when I realised that A Dangerous Method was an adaptation of Hampton’s play The Talking Cure. Had Cronenberg and company kept the title for the cinematic adaptation I imagine that critics would have gone wild with the chances to create a pun on title because what immediately stands out about A Dangerous Method is how devoted to telling and not showing it is. Its opening suggests otherwise. A screaming woman on the brink of something akin to lunacy, it would seem, is the first image we are presented with. This woman is Sabina Spielrein, one of the first female psychoanalysts and someone to whom everyone with an S&M complex probably owes something to. This is not a film about S&M, though (le sigh) but a story about Carl Jung, Sabina’s psychiatrist and his eventual lover and the way – at least, according the film – she severed the relationship Jung had with Freud, his teacher.
Even with these issues there is the suggestion that the script could have resulted in a very good film instead of just a good one, and it is Cronenberg’s direction which is most perplexing. Hampton’s screenplay lacks his usual bite, yet Cronenberg who shows his diversity in style here presents a film beautiful to look at but curiously antiseptic in its staging. There is nothing inherently bad about the lush presentation of the film, but there seems to be a palpable indication of Cronenberg being overly restrained which imbues the film with a sedateness that comes off as unnaturally placid, especially when considering the scope of its subject. The pieces fit together too easily, and without fracas, for the development to be completely natural.
Structurally, every outside of the central love story causes the film to lag just a little. In reality, it is a bit different especially when Vincent Cassell and Viggo Mortensen offer up such fine performances. Cassell’s Otto Gross enters the film for a short period in the middle and delivers excellently, and even as his presence reveals itself to be something superfluous the performance is anything but. The presence of Freud is less incidental, but Hampton does not fare well in tying all the strands of his drama together sometimes rendering Freud’s presence as just a bit too much of happenstance. Mortensen, unusually stoic here, is exceptional. It is not my favourite performance of the film, but it is does reveal itself as the most organic even as the narrative forgets him for too long and sometimes seems unable to use him to the best effect.
upgraded to B upon reviewing