Canadian director David Cronenberg has an enviable reputation for portraying such volatile individuals in disarming stories—from Scanners and Videodrome to Dead Ringers, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Demonstrating his mature expertise in A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg relies on clever verbal confrontations between strong-willed men and women; however, the film lacks the uniform dynamic tension it strains toward, as constrained at times as its period. Though beautifully shot, it relies too heavily on the appeal of sexual neuroses and too little on exploring the fascinating psychological complexity, an ironic element of a film about Freud and Jung.
The advantage of historically based stories lies in bringing illustrious individuals to vivid life. The danger rests in serious misrepresentation, a problem with many cinematic versions, though we must remember that these narratives are decidedly not documentaries. At the Telluride Film Festival, writer Christopher Hampton, adapting his play The Talking Cure, described his rare access to authentic documents, keeping this dramatic presentation firmly grounded.
To be sure, Freud, Jung and Spielrein do present commanding figures thanks to strong performances by Viggo Mortensen as Freud, Michael Fassbender as Jung, and Keira Knightley as Sabina. However, factual or not, Knightley's exaggerated mannerisms distract much more than they engage, making viewer involvement a battle. When she arrives at Jung's mental hospital near Zurich, as the observing diagnostician, Jung establishes an analytical perspective. As a result, the charged interactions are diminished, and A Dangerous Method seems less perilous than routine. At a Landmark Theatre.