While there has always been a psycho/sexual theme in various guises throughout the work of famed filmmaker David Cronenberg, he has become a bit more refined with his movies of late. But where "Eastern Promises" was one of his most accomplished pictures to date, "A Dangerous Method" feels stagnate and ends up suffering from a severe case of identity crisis. Is the film a highbrow pseudo-intellectual drama, a tale of twisted sexual practices or just an examination of the deep dark secrets within us all? Problem is on all such levels the boring Method fails – trying to please everyone is dangerous indeed.
Michael Fassbender stars as the famed Dr. Carl Jung, a driven man who takes on the case of unbalanced and disturbed Russian gal Sabina Spielrein and ends up getting more then he bargains for. He takes advice and seeks help from his renowned mentor Sigmund Freud, especially when the talk with Sabina begins to go in a dark and sexual place. But the straight-laced doctor finds himself drawn to her and the two eventually begin an unhealthy sexual relationship as well.
There is more heady info in the story between Jung and Freud, as well as more suggestive material via Jung and Sabina (especially in the form of loose moral fellow doctor Otto Gross, played with sinful relish by Cronenberg regular Vincent Cassel), but all feels like watered-down Cronenberg. The scenes of the two medical men examining patient care plays more for the old school crowd, while the sexual stuff is more for the progressive gang. Problem is neither reaches their full potential under Cronenberg’s usually ample hand. (I like my intellectual chat more engaging and spanking to be a tad more graphic thanks!) It’s as if Cronenberg was trying to make a film that everyone – and no one – could enjoy. Not to mention that the performances mostly fall flat; Keira Knightly, usually so authentic in her varied roles, comes off as bad acting 101 here, Fassbender isn’t given much to work with and even Cassel seems a tad dull. The only saving grace of Method is the stand-out, five-star work by other Cronenberg regular Viggo Mortensen as the legendary Sigmund Freud. Taking all Viggo-isms out of his work, the actor virtually disappears and breathtakingly becomes Freud – it’s an Oscar worthy performance if ever there was one.
It’s ultimately sad though because I sense that Cronenberg’s need to push the envelope and be original is starting to fade with age, as if the passion for the unusual side of ordinary life has become passé. Gone are the glory days of exploding heads, human VCR’s and car crashes that turn you on – sadly method has replaced madness.
"A DANGEROUS METHOD" OPENS NOV. 23 IN SELECT CITIES FROM SONY PICTURES CLASSICS