Monday, January 28, 2013

DVD of the Week: A Dangerous Method

I've always liked David Cronenberg, in part because I generally like his films, and in part because his film choices have got varied and interesting over the years. He tends to work with interesting actors and do interesting things with them, and he's become of those directors that I'll generally watch just because its him. A Dangerous Method is an adaptation of a stage play about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and patient-turned-doctor Sabina Speilrein, and is another odd departure; a talk-heavy period piece. So that's different.

I'm actually quite conflicted about A Dangerous Method. On the one hand its lovely to watch, well acted, sharply scripted, but on the other it carries its "worthiness" a little heavily, is occasionally too mannered, and really, really shows it started life as a play. Adapting plays is always a risky thing; by their nature they tend to be confined in a way the films are not, and moviemakers are faced with the problems of opening them up for the big screen. Some adaptations make the stagey nature and use it create intimacy - look at Frost/Nixon for example - and others try and expand the closed settings outwards and bring in the scale that theatre will often struggle to achieve.

If A Dangerous Method has a single, easily identifiable problem it is that it falls between these two stools. Many of its scenes are just two actors, together, talking, but often the film wants to show off its wide range of locations; offices, apartments, lawns, dining rooms, bedrooms, and ocean liners. It jars slightly, and creates a friction between the measure dialogue and the movement between locales. Its not to say it's not good to look at - although the CG work on the liner to New York is a little TV-movie-tastic - but I can't help feeling that the very small cast is fitting to a small series of locations.

There is also an issue between the lead performances. Viggo Mortenson (Freud) and Micheal Fassbender (Jung) both give the sort of quiet, intimate, drawing room performances that fit the constraints of the society at the time, whereas Keira Knightly (Speilrein) gives a heightened performance that acts as a counterpoint to them. It's obviously deliberate, and in the early therapy sessions where Fassbender is calm and locked down, and Knightly is a barrage of tics and yelps, it's very effective, but its a trick that wears out as the film goes on.  

I'm left feeling that whist this isn't a bad film, it's not a terribly good one. It tries hard; it's beautifully shot, and well acted (caveats above nothwithstanding), but whilst it bubbles along, it never fizzes and never makes you feel anything is hugely at stake. In so many ways it's an interesting idea for a movie, with an interesting set of characters in an interesting time. But it ends up just ever so slightly....dull.