David Cronenberg has been a polarizing director since his days as an artfully bizarre Canadian B-movie director, and his latest work “A Dangerous Method” is proving that he has no interest in winning over his most skeptical critics. The film, which premiered today at Venice, will no doubt leave festival as one of its most controversial movies.
The film, adapted from the stage play “The Talking Cure,” is an articulate, unrelentingly intellectual chamber drama on Jung, Freud and the the primordial days of psychoanalysis. It features a trio of respected leading actors: Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbinder and Cronenberg favorite Viggo Mortensen. Surprisingly, Knightley is the one bringing home most of the critical attention, both negative and overwhelmingly positive, for her high-pitched performance as the hysterical patient-turned-psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein.
The film has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics and will open stateside on November 23. In the meantime, it should continue to divide critics at the Telluride, Toronto and New York Film Festivals.
The Guardian – NEGATIVE
What the spanking can’t do, unfortunately, is knock some life into this heartfelt, well-acted but curiously underwhelming slab of Masterpiece Theatre. A Dangerous Method feels heavy and lugubrious. It is a tale that comes marinated in port and choked on pipe-smoke. You long for it to hop down from the couch, throw open the windows and run about in the garden.
The Playlist – POSITIVE
All in all, it’s a pacy, absorbing picture, and one of real substance (certainly more so than the enjoyable, but somewhat hollow “Eastern Promises”). But if anything keeps it from quite hitting the heights that it could, it’s Hampton’s scripting. It’s not so much the uncompromising manner of the material—an audience member could probably get by on the briefest knowledge of psychoanalysis, which in this day and age most have, and, while the dialogue is sometimes tortuously wordy, the cast are able to make it fly, with only one or two lines sounding clunky.
The Hollywood Reporter – VERY POSITIVE
Cronenberg’s direction is at one with the writer’s diamond-hard rigor; cinematographer Peter Suschitzky provides visuals of a pristine purity augmented by the immaculate fin de l’epoch settings, while the editing has a bracing sharpness than can only be compared to Kubrick’s. Along with Knightley’s excellent work as a character with a very long emotional arc indeed, Fassbender brilliantly conveys Jung’s intelligence, urge to propriety and irresistible hunger for shedding light on the mysteries of the human interior. A drier, more contained figure, Freud is brought wonderfully to life by Mortensen in a bit of unexpected casting that proves entirely successful.
Movieline – POSITIVE
In A Dangerous Method Cronenberg takes this meeting of minds and finds the crackle in the connection. It’s never dull for a moment, which is an achievement for a movie about two guys who built whole therapeutic disciplines around the acts of talking and listening. Cronenberg is attuned to the inherent drama, and the pitfalls, in what these men did. As a filmmaker, he’s as good a listener as he is a talker.
Variety – MIXED
Rather less assured, and initially the film’s most problematic element, is Knightley, whose brave but unskilled depiction of hysteria at times leaves itself open to easy laughs. The spectacle of the usually refined actress flailing about, taking on a grotesque underbite, and stammering and wailing in a Russian accent is perhaps intended to clash with her co-stars’ impeccable restraint, but does so here in unintended ways.
The Telegraph – MIXED
Much of this material (adapted from Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure) is frankly uncinematic, and Cronenberg has compensated with sumptuous locations – Swiss lakes, opulent houses and ravishing costumes. Knightley is decked out in an impressive series of blouses, bustles and corsets. The main performances are fine, with Fassbender conveying seething emotion beneath a calm veneer. But it’s Knightley that one remembers, for a full-on portrayal that is gutsy and potentially divisive in equal parts.