30 years ago the prospect of David Cronenberg directing a period piece was as likely as Mike Leigh merging into horror movies. Well the 68 year old Canadian has come a long way since his body horror days. His last film to completely embody all of his distinct body conscious characteristics was 1999's sci-fi fantasy eXistenZ. Since then he has evolved into a film-maker who is increasingly harder to pin down, with existential thrillers A History of Violence and Eastern Promises pathing alternative territory for the auteur. His latest, A Dangerous Method, which takes place in 1913 Austria on the eve of the Great War and looks at the birth of psychoanalysis through the intense love/hate relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, shares more in common with his 2002 film Spider - both being historical dramas concerning a psychologically unhinged character. Recent frequent collaborator Viggo Mortensen has come a long way also - arguably achieving some of his finest performances under Cronenberg's direction. This third collaboration (following both Violence and his Oscar nominated turn in Promises) is perhaps his toughest challenge yet and it's a credit to the star's versatility that he has now managed to pull off three completely different characterisations for Cronenberg with absolute conviction. His embodiment of Sigmund Freud here is literally worlds away from the enigmatic family man in Violence or the equally secretive Russian mob ade in Promises. An effortlessly articulate Austrian gentleman with a notable arrogant streak, Freud is brought vividly to the screen and Mortensen comes close to stealing the entire show from Michael Fassbender's astute mild-mannered Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Less convincing is Keria Knightly's obsessive turn as the hysterical sadomasochistic patient Jung learns to love and care for: Sabina Spielrein - her elongated jaw jutter and bombastic body movements seriously stretching plausibility. But thankfully Vincent Cassel brings much needed life and humour into proceedings as the self-satisfied hedonistic Dr Otto Gross who ignites (the previously faithfully married) Jung's sexual impulses for Spielrein. Method is an almost exclusively interior tale too but we really shouldnt be surprised coming from the film-maker of both The Fly and Dead Ringers. Here, however instead of the geographical claustrophobia intensifying proceedings it stifles the drama with a stagy feel, where the importance of Christopher Hampton's psychobabble script (adapted from his own play) takes centre stage. As a result there's a noticeable lack of empathy and you feel distanced rather than involved in the psychological framework. A real pity as so much effort has been placed on authenticating other details such as the period design, which, it must be said is exquisite. Also impressive is Denise Cronenberg's impeccable costume design and the superb classical piano score from Howard Shore. But aside from the intensified sex scenes between Jung and Spielrein (infamous bottom slapping and all) and a few virginal blotches of blood on bed sheets there's nothing noticeably Cronenbergian hemmed into this intricate patchwork. Enjoy A Dangerous Method for its fine performances, beautiful aesthetic and slap and tickle bedroom scenes, because its central ménage à trois will leave you cold to the core. There may be a deeper method to the madness but it just isn't allowed to shine through - a pity as Cronenberg has always been an expert in conveying all things psychological. A Dangerous Method begins a limited run in the U.S. next week and shamefully, not out in the U.K. till February 10th 2012! This is our second review of A Dangerous Method after our London Film Festival write-up.
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Oliver Pfeiffer is a freelance writer who trained at the British Film Institute. He joined OWF in 2007 and now contributes as a Features Writer. Since becoming Obsessed with Film he has interviewed such diverse talents as actors Keanu Reeves, Tobin Bell, Dave Prowse and Naomie Harris, new Hammer Studios Head Simon Oakes and Hollywood filmmakers James Mangold, Scott Derrickson and Uk director Justin Chadwick.
Previously he contributed to dimsum.co.uk and has had other articles published in Empire, Hecklerspray, Se7en Magazine, Pop Matters, The Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle and more recently SciFiNow Magazine and The Guardian. He loves anything directed by Cronenberg, Lynch, Weir, Haneke, Herzog, Kubrick and Hitchcock and always has time for Hammer horror films, Ealing comedies and those twisted Giallo movies.
His blog is: http://sites.google.com/site/oliverpfeiffer102/