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Dangerous Method, A (AF)


Stars: Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Sarah Gadon, Vincent Cassel

Director: David Cronenberg

Since psychoanalysts thrive by attending to moviemakers on both sides of the camera, a drama dealing with psychiatric pioneers Jung and Freud would seem a surefire subject. Which it is, as scripted by Christopher Hampton, directed by Cronenberg and, particularly, as played by Knightley, Fassbender as Jung and Mortensen as Freud.

Hampton’s potent and compelling adaptation of his play ‘The Talking Cure’ about the intellectual jousting between the two celebrated pioneers of psychoanalysis engages the mind as well as the emotions, showcasing as it does what I think is Knightley’s finest screen performance to date. First seen shrieking and demonically deranged as she is carried into Jung’s Swiss clinic in 1904, her transformation from young Russian neurotic to his ‘cured’ assistant under Jung’s experimental treatment impressive and convincing. She pulls out every stop to illuminate a sexually terrorised psyche and brings it off brilliantly and then follows up convincingly with her credible 'cured' psyche that follows.

She is superbly supported with equal effectiveness by Fassbender and Mortensen, the latter visited by Jung in Vienna after a long correspondence over Knightley’s treatment.

There their intellectual discussion begins, contrasting Jung’s wider analytical approach to psychology with Freud’s sexually dominated theories, discussions that end in an unexpected sexual relationship…

Surprisingly, perhaps, ‘A Dangerous Method’ is enjoyably infused with black humour and unlike much of Cronenberg’s previous work in that there is none of the melodrama and sometimes horrific elements that so often infuse his films. The three central performances are just what is needed to give the story a solid dramatic spine, with strong contributions from Cassel as a patient Freud asks Jung to treat and Gadon as Jung’s cuckolded wife.

(The advent of CinemaScope in the 1950s reportedly caused one cynic to state the new wide screen process was suitably only for scenes involving psychiatrists’ couches. Appropriately, then, ‘A Dangerous Method’ is filmed in a wide screen process).

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: UK/Germany/Canada/Switzerland. Colour by deluxe.
99 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 11 Feb 2012