It's being a period piece that does it. Understood.
Beginning in 1904 Zurich, Switzerland, the fact-based fiction examines the love triangle of sorts between Carl Jung; his mentor, Sigmund Freud; and Sabina Spielrein, who is Jung’s patient, then his lover, and eventually a colleague. In tracing her rise from a quivering, quaking wreck to the world's first female psychoanalyst, the film also traces the rise of the revolutionary psychological therapy and, ironically, the dissolution of the friendship between the field’s two giants.
Admittedly, that sounds like a dull film, and I can understand those who find it as such. As an admirer of Cronenberg’s work, even I was skeptical how he would be able to wring something so watchable out of material so on-paper dry — a costume drama, for God's sake! Then again, look at his cast: Jung, Freud and Spielrein are played by, respectively, Michael Fassbender (Shame), Viggo Mortensen (in his third go-round with Cronenberg, after the Oscar-nommed A History of Violence and Eastern Promises) and Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go).
The men are excellent as expected; Mortensen, even unrecognizable at first. But Knightley is something of a revelation, right from the start. Arriving at the clinic where the very married Jung practices, her jaw juts forward at seemingly impossible angles as she stammers, her hands curling as if she has no control over them. Under the wrong director — which is to say most of them — this kind of thing would be laughable, but the stripped-of-vanity starlet gives it her all.
Ignored at Oscar time — and to be honest, it’s not strong enough compared to most of those who weren’t — A Dangerous Method deserved at least recognition for Peter Suschitzky’s beautiful cinematography. With a period-perfect look that’s as breathtaking as its performers, the film grows more rewarding upon a second viewing ... if only it can convince people to give it a first look. —Rod Lott