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"A DANGEROUS METHOD"
(2011) (Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: The paths of a famous early 20th century psychiatrist and his protégé diverge as they come to disagree about the correct way to treat patients, all while the younger man ends up having an affair with one of his.
PLOT:
It's the early 20th century and a young woman by the name of Sabina Spielrein (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY) is brought to the attention of psychiatrist Carl Jung (MICHAEL FASSBENDER). Married to the wealthy Emma (SARAH GADON) and with a baby on the way, Jung has started utilizing the talking therapy techniques created but never enacted by his unofficial mentor, Sigmund Freud (VIGGO MORTENSEN).

The two have never met, but Jung clearly admires the work of the famous therapist and thus tries to help the hysterical Sabina who suffers from the guilt associated with her sexualized responses to past childhood beatings.

With a few years having passed, Sabina is better and is assisting Jung in his work, all while the latter has struck up a working relationship with Freud. The two differ about the best way to treat their patients, but Freud sees the much younger Jung as his protégé and thus sends a troubled psychiatrist, Otto Gross (VINCENT CASSEL), to be his patient.

Otto lets his libido control his life, and their discussions soon persuade Jung to let his run free, resulting in a torrid affair with Sabina. From that point on and as his and Freud's views of patients and therapies diverge, Jung must figure out who and what is right for him.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Most any performer will gladly accept any role -- particularly when they're starting to make a name for themselves -- but the one thing they usually want to avoid is ending up typecast before they become a known name. After all, while constant or even occasional work is better than waiting tables, the artist element in such people usually crave variety.

Although Michael Fassbender has been actively working for the past decade (including in HBO's "Band of Brothers" as well as the films "300," "Inglourious Basterds" and "X-Men: First Class"), it's unlikely many viewers actually know him by name and while some might recognize him, they probably can't remember from where.

Thus, playing the lead in two films that are thematically similar might seem to be a risky move. Undeterred by that -- and likely realizing neither effort had much of a chance of becoming a box office smash and thus putting him on the A-list -- the talented actor's latest efforts revolve around men undermined by their raging libidos.

Earlier this winter, he played a sex addict in "Shame," the sort of man who likely would have been of great interest to the character he plays from a century earlier in "A Dangerous Method." And that would be none other than Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology who was also something of a protégé to the most famous psychoanalytic therapist of them all. No, that isn't Dr. Phil, but rather Sigmund Freud (convincingly played by Viggo Mortensen).

Both characters appear in this film playing colleagues with symbolic father-son issues of their own creation, alongside a woman (the ravishing Keira Knightley) with some serious, sexualized daddy issues of her own. Throw in a director earlier associated with being one of the originators of the venereal horror genre (that feature psycho-physical fears of bodily transformation) and a screenwriter best known for his period pieces ("Dangerous Liaisons," "Atonement," "Mary Reilly") and the stage would seem set for some old-fashioned, psychoanalytic mind games.

While the pic gets the period look and feel correct (through the production design, costumes, etc.) and the performances are strong from the male leads, this is one of those offerings that's decent but simply fails to ignite the viewer's interest. I wasn't ever bored by what shows up on the screen, but then again, I wasn't ever terribly engaged or intrigued by how things were going to play out.

In keeping with the style of his later offerings (such as "Eastern Promises" and "A History of Violence"), it isn't easy picking out that David Cronenberg (who earlier made a name for himself helming horror pics such as "Scanners," "Videodrome," "The Dead Zone" and "The Fly") was behind the camera. Working from screenwriter Christopher Hampton's stage play adaptation of John Kerr's book, the director begins his tale when Sabina is first brought to the attention of Jung in 1904.

She's hysterical and obviously psychologically scarred by past events that have mentally twisted into a conflicting anguish for her, and the therapist sets out to use Freud's new therapeutic device of talking through the problem to find a cure. He's never met Freud, but the filmmakers jump ahead in time to set up that meeting as well as what will become their strained mentor-protégé relationship that mirrors a more typical father and adult son one.

Covering a span of nine or so years through that relationship and that of Jung and his patient-turned-collaborator, the film never really manages to gel into a satisfying whole, no doubt hurt somewhat by the jumps through time. Although I'm not always a fan of such a cinematic tactic, a non-linear approach might have made this tale more interesting or at least kept this viewer more engaged regarding what was unfolding.

What's present in the linear version is fairly cut and dried and plays out in a rote fashion that undermines the scandalous elements and undertones that are present. Simply put, Jung meets Sabina and starts to treat her using Freud's untested methods. He and Freud then meet and discuss dreams, their views of sexuality in connection with mental issues and such.

Freud then sends Jung another doctor as a patient (an appropriately smarmy Vincent Cassel) who somehow manages to convince Jung that he should given in to his baser instincts regarding his patient. Jung does just that while his wife (Sarah Gadon) is busy popping out babies, and tries to keep that secret from Freud all while Sabina somehow (and not convincingly, at least as depicted here) becomes a therapist herself.

Fassbender and Mortensen are good but aren't allowed to run and battle with the material as well as they're capable of doing, while Knightley's performance wavers from sadly compelling to way over the top (depicting mental illness) to the point of distraction. But at least her performance livens things up in this otherwise mostly staid, if pretty production. In short, "A Dangerous Method" never feel as dangerous as it should, and thus rates as only a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 2, 2012 / Posted January 6, 2012


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