A Dangerous Method – Review

A Dangerous Method (2011) 

Directed by: David Cronenberg. Written by: Christopher Hampton. Starring Michael FassbenderKeira KnightleyViggo Mortensen.

I can’t remember the last time when I have been so much in disagreement with the general critical response for a movie… Everywhere I look I seem to hear and read high praises for Cronenberg’s latest work, and yet I am willing to bet that few of those who claimed to like it so much would be ready to watch it again. As far as I am concerned I am struggling to find something positive to say (well, yes, nice costumes…) and the only reason why my vote isn’t any lower is because I am willing to admit that I might have not been in the right mood for it.

Even in his most flawed films, Cronenberg has always been an interesting director, or at least able to create not only an almost palpable atmosphere, but also a particularly defined style and vision which set him apart from the usual Hollywood crowd.

And yet this one seems a film with no direction whatsoever. Not only each sequence felt random and inconsequential as if not necessarily edited in the right order, without any real feeling of natural progression from the previous one into the next, but also it was all so static and lifeless that sometimes I even wondered whether anyone was actually directing at all. At no point I felt any sympathy for any of the character: in fact, not only I did not like any of them, but I didn’t even hate them either. I just didn’t care.

And this is is a rather strange thing to say, because on paper, a film about the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud (and consequently the birth of psychoanalysis) sounded to me very intriguing indeed. Sadly, pretty earlier on into “A dangerous Method” I realised that this wasn’t really the type of film I was hoping to see.

I found myself uneasy right from the word “go”, that is from the moment I saw Keira Knightley overacting like never before and stretching her chin to new unbelievable levels, as if screaming to the audience “I want that Oscar!!”. Well, darling, not this time.

Then, after the early screams, it all calmed down a bit and the dialogue started… and that’s when it got worse! For a film which should rely on words more than action itself (especially given the static nature of it all), I found the script absolutely puerile. It all felt like it was written by a high school kid, who’s just heard a few things about Freud and wants to impress his friend with his newly acquired knowledge. I mean, there are actually lines like “You Freud, have always sex in your mind. Why does everything always has to do with sex?”!  Really? Mr Hampton, who are you writing this script for? Surely your target audience doesn’t need things spell out so boldly and blatantly.

It was like reading a checklist of all the possible clichés one could think about psychoanalysis (and Freud in particular). Who is this film for anyway? At times it felt like it was so ridiculously basic, as if it was written for people who have never even heard of Freud and Jung. Other times it was all so ridden with heavy handed quotes and so “up its own self” that it felt like watching some boring lecture given by an even more bored teacher, sitting on your old desk back in school. From such a renowned scriptwriter (he wrote Dangerous Liaisons and Atonement among the other things) I was expecting a lot more: maybe Mr Hampton should watch a few episodes of HBO’s classy “In Treatment” to learn a thing of two about the subtlety of bringing psychoanalysis to the screen.

As far as the two leading male actors (Fassbender and Mortensen, who by the way was so good in both Cronenberg “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”), they were as good as they could possibly be, but in the end they both failed to impress, move, or even raise any sort of emotion beyond boredom. But then again, that’s hardly surprising given both the script they were actually given and a clear lack of any direction, which forced them to talk at each other in the most contrived scenes and badly staged, where even the extras in the background seemed fake and moved slowly and gently like… erm…well, extras (particularly noticeable in the scene by the river).

Sorry David, not this time for me.

5/10

You Don’t Know Jack – Review

You Don’t Know Jack (2010) 

Director: Barry Levinson Writer: Adam Mazer Stars: Al Pacino, Brenda Vaccaro and John Goodman, Susan Sarandon

This wasn’t an easy watch, I have to tell you. More than once during the long 134 minutes (according to imdb, or 164 according to my SkyBox) I thought of stopping the recording and quitting the film before the end.

I was an absolute wreck throughout and I must have lost the count of the times my eyes were so watery that I couldn’t even see the screen anymore. But in the end the film is so skillfully done, beautifully acted, well paced and gripping that I couldn’t turn it off.

It is one of the most powerful film I’ve seen in the last few years, one that touches a subject that still divides the world: euthanasia.

I am extremely happy I saw it, but I don’ t know if I could do it again.

Oscar winner Director Barry Levinson has obviously got an agenda and the film is by no means impartial, and yet it never feels heavy-handed and in fact by the end, there’s still a lot of room for discussion.

The music, for example, is used sparingly and whenever is there, it doesn’t feel overdone.

The deaths of the people in the euthanasia scenes are quite detailed and intense to an almost unbearable level, especially at the beginning of the film: But once you get the idea of how the whole process works, after about 30 minutes or so, the “assisted suicides” become less graphic and they begin to happen more and more off-camera, though respectfully they’re always signaled by  a caption with the full name of the person who’s just died.

That makes you always very aware you’re watching something real, something that has actually happened. Consequently it makes it even harder to watch. However the film is never exploitive.

Of course, if you really wanted to pick it apart, then you would probably argue that there isn’t enough time given to the opposite side of argument. Only a few sound-bites are given to the protesters and the prosecutors are very sketchy characters,who are only seen arguing their cases during the court cases; however mercifully they are not caricatures and we never laugh at them (which would have been terribly manipulative).

There are some lighter moments here and there and I did find myself laughing at the dark and surreal humor, but, on the whole, given the subject itself, this is pretty serious stuff and there’s not a lot to laugh about.

On paper this could have become the cheesy, typical TV-movie-of-the-week: and yet “You don’t know Jack”  has that Quality (with a caption Q) we’ve all become to expect from a HBO production over the years: the direction, the photography, the editing, the script and of course the acting!!

First and foremost Al Pacino, who truly gives one of the best performance of his life  and within the first few minutes completely disappears inside the role of  Jack Kevorkian.

He shows us the best of him and the worst. He wants to help, he’s compassionate, he’s got principles and he has guts, but he’s also an arrogant, sometimes vicious and not necessarily a nice man. He’s also a reclusive man who hardly shares his feelings with anyone (hence the great title “you don’t know Jack”).

The supporting cast is great too, from the ever-wonderful John Goodman, to Susan Sarandon.

In the end whether you agree with Kevorkian’s practices or not, it is hard not to be compelled by this movie. Whether you react positively or negatively to it will probably be tainted with personal views about assisted suicide rather than the film’s actual merits. But since this is still an ongoing dilemma, it’s great to see a film exploring the issue so well. It’s interesting that they choose to do it as a TV movie as opposed to for the big screen: it makes you think whether America is actually ready for the debate… (and don’t tell me, the manipulative, “Million Dollar baby” did it before).

9/10

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