The only thing dangerous about this period drama with Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, and Viggo Mortensen is how painfully boring it is...
Sony / 99 Minutes / 2011 / RatedR / Street Date: March 27, 2012
David Cronenberg is a king of modern cinematic ideas. Whether his films are of large or small scope, the Canadian filmmaker crams so many intellectual concepts into his works that even when the movies don't work, they're at least steadily buoyed by their fervent ideological brainstorming. But this equilibrium is tested like never before in A Dangerous Method, a movie about sex and psychology that seems in theory to be exactly the kind of thing that has crystallized Cronenberg's career, but in practice is a staggering snore, a movie leaden with heavy-handed exposition and blighted dramatic impulses.
Designed as a sort of quasi-erotica for the bookworm brigade, A Dangerous Method chronicles the intellectual communion and subsequent divorce of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). They're brought together thanks to the particulars of the case of young Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a woman who appears at the beginning of the film having what looks like a complete nervous breakdown, but ends up not only becoming a game-changing case study but a psychologist of her own regard in the process.
There are sexual games here, lies and betrayal, the appearance of a sincerely troubled fellow patient named Otto (Vincent Cassel) who throws a wrench into everything: A Dangerous Method has flashes of the kind of dramatic framework that could theoretically make it a heady, sexy melodrama. But saying the film starts with a droll precocity and only gets more stilted and unconvincing as it plays out is understating the sheer monotony of the thing. Cronenberg has proven to be one of this generation's most creative and outlandish talents - especially in the realm of adapting novels and plays into films (his Naked Lunch remains a bona fide classic) - but A Dangerous Method misfires from the get-go.
It's a film that broadcasts lush costume design and sexual ideas that threaten to join the ranks of some of the director's more titillating and oblique of times past, but no element of A Dangerous Method gains any traction. Fassbender has a subtle, formal gravitas in his performance, but Mortensen underwhelms as Freud and Knightley is quite simple out of her range here. And the movie's screenplay (adapted from Christopher Hampton's play) is emotionally inert, without any draw or payoff to offer. Cronenberg has a few more classics in him, I bet, but A Dangerous Method isn't one of them.