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

Never Let Me Go – Review

Never Let Me Go (2010)

Directed by Mark Romanek. Starring Carey MulliganAndrew GarfieldKeira Knightley

Finally Never Let Me Go gets released in the UK (more than 5 months after its premiere): maybe there were hoping for a few Oscar nominations to get more exposure. Instead they’ve got none… And you know why? I think it’s because actually the film is not that good.

If you haven’t seen it and you still want go spend some money for a ticket, then you should probably stay away from this review as it will contain some spoilers and as always a film is better enjoyed when you know as little as possible. I came to it knowing absolutely nothing, so you can imagine my surprise when I realized that it was actually a sort of a sci-fi story!

In a way I like I was watching an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone”: it had the same feel of impending doom that some of those best episodes seemed to have, but also I couldn’t help thinking that it all could have worked better as a short story/film, instead of the long drawn-out experience that “Never Let me Go” is.

First of all let me just say that I really want to applaud the original concept: I like the actual and the whole message  behind it all. The film has been adapted by Alex Garland (who’d written The Beach, 28 Days Later among the others) from a novel by Japanese-English Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (who gave us things like The Remains of the Day).

Alex Garland does deserve some credit for sticking to the restraints of the novel, but also director Mark Romanek deserves some credit too for the intense mood he managed to create: however all that gray from the sky and the landscape and in the characters’ clothes after a while does spill into my feeling about the film. It’s neither black nor white… just a middle dull gray that failed to engage me as much as it probably should have.

The founding premise, must be said,  has already been explored in several novels and film within the sci-fi genre many time before (see Michael Bay’s The Island, for example… Obviously that is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum), but at least here it’s good to see them avoiding the clichés of the typical futuristic-looking-city with people dressed up in translucent lycra and flying cars… Instead we have a sort of alternate reality looking like 60s or 70s.

I haven’t read the original, but I hear it has some of the same issues (or faults in my view) that the film has. You can probably got away with on the written page, but up there, on the screen, my patience run out pretty soon as the story became too mechanical and the plot holes became more and more apparent. There’s something literally “vital” missing. It just didn’t ring true!

So much so, that after a while the film completely stopped working for me, especially on an emotional level. And it’s not because the whole thing is sparse and slow and muted, but mainly because the story became so unreal and contrived that after a while I stopped believing in the characters and eventually stopped caring for them.

It’s strange to be put off by the feeling on “unreal” in what’s essentially a sci-fi, but when that gets in the way of the emotional response one should have towards the characters, then something is wrong with it.

For a start I just could not  believe that these people would do nothing to try to question their fate that’s been set up for them. I also myself not really buying into the fact that Andrew Garfield’s character was in love with Carey Mulligan. I can’t quite figure out if it’s again a problem with the script itself or with Garfield’s acting: I prefer to go for the first option, since I’ve already stated my problems with the story anyway and I want to believe Garfield is actually a better actor than he was allowed to be here.

Carey Mulligan is probably the best of the three actors, but even poor Carey’s doomed face became a bit tiresome after a while.

Finally Keira Knightley, even though she pulls off one of her best performances she’s ever displayed, still manages to annoy the hell out of me, even though, as it’s been noted before, she overcomes the implausibility of being donor of organs: where would she actually keep them?

In short, there wasn’t enough to fill a whole movie… and for me to care.

6.0

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