• A Dangerous Method shows off David Cronenberg’s genre range–sharply pivoting from the Russian mob crime film Eastern Promises and diving instead into early 20th century Vienna and the world of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud (played superbly by Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen respectively).
  • This marks the third pairing of auteur and actor with Cronenberg and Viggo. Again, it is as if Viggo took at that goodwill and clout he earned from the financial (and surely artistic) success of The Lord of the Rings and decided to put it to good use working with one of the greatest directors of the last few decades.
  • Howard Shore (LOTR, Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs) is here again working with Cronenberg as he almost always does. This is his thirteen (13th) time working with Cronenberg I believe.
  • A Dangerous Method was shot in Austria.

largely shot in Europe- wealth – clean production design and period costume work

  • First and foremost, it is one of the greatest uses of depth of field in recent cinema history. Or at least the first half of the film is. Cronenberg uses the split diopter here as well (and as often) as anyone not named Brian De Palma. The split diopter is uses at least five times with Fassbender in the foreground (left) while his wife is taking a test in the background right. There is another with Keira Knightley (playing a crucial role in the film as Sabina Spielrein) shortly after and yet another with the wet nurse after that. In analysis, Knightley is in the foreground right—and Fassbender in the background left.

Cronenberg’s masterful use of split diopter…

….eschewing the cinematically flat  shot/reverse shot, that often plagues dialogue-laden films

the first half of the film is on its way to be one of Cronenberg’s finest achievements

for at least a brief moment of time- it was fair to argue that Michael Fassbender was the best actor on planet earth

  • Fassbender plays intelligence well. His Jung is buttoned up, idealistic (if not a little naïve). This was during a marvelous run for Fassbender going from Hunger in 2008 (his coming out party) to 12 Years a Slave in 2013. This run includes Inglourious Basterds (2009), his greatest work to date- Shame (2011) and Cronenberg’s film here of course. In six years, Fassbender is in ten (10) archiveable films.
  • Viggo shows up at the 22-minute mark (in a 99-minute mark) and is commanding in his screen presence. He is also convincingly in portraying genius (though his Freud (older than Jung) is not naïve- perhaps a bit paranoid). Viggo is a truly versatile actor.
  • Unfortunately, the crucial role of Spielrein is just too much to ask for Knightley. One must admire Knightley for challenging herself and her choice of material– but with the accent and twitches—this is a juicy role (and a lot to ask of any actor)- and the ask is just too much for her. Naomi Watts is just a little too old in 2011 (Knightley is 26… Watts is 43). Marion Cotillard might be slightly better (still a little on the older side at 36). Carey Mulligan feels like the perfect choice (age 26 as well) though this would pair her again with Fassbender in 2011 (Shame). Either way, I would have liked to have seen it.

This is a resume builder for Cronenberg, Viggo and Fassbender

the split diopters are not just about two faces at varying levels of depth- but Cronenberg uses it to put an emphasis on objects- such as a crucial letter here

The only other role of note is the character Otto Gross- played with great enthusiasm by Vincent Cassel. Otto is “erratic”- “watch out for him- he bites” says Viggo’s Freud. There is another stunner of a split diopter with Cassel in the foreground right in Fassbender’s office as he is in the background left. Cassel steals every scene he is in. Vincent Cassel should be in every film.

  • At the 25-minute mark there is another split diopter with Viggo in the foreground right of the screen in profile with his cigar. Yet another later with Fassbender standing in Freud’s (Viggo) office during their 13-hour conversation.

Like Welles, Wyler or Kurosawa before him- Cronenberg takes a very dialogue-heavy film and uses deep focus to create series of brilliant and beautiful shots.

  • Regrettably, the split diopters largely stop after the first half of the film- this is not only a shame as pertains to the beauty of the film—but its front-loadedness also gives it a bit of formal imbalance.
  • The film also could use with a bit more breathing room-it is 99-minute but needs at least 119 if not even 129 or 139. The trip to America seems like it was just virtually cut out altogether—there are relationships (complex, really great deep relationships built in the film) that feel truncated at the end and the venomous letter to Freud right after he collapses is never fully explored.

However, Cronenberg is able to stick the landing with the final shot as the camera tracks in on Fassbender’s Jung as he sits, stunned, in his wicker chair. End.

  • A Must-See film