A movie about the kinky sex lives of psychologists? Sign me up!
That was my initial reaction, at least, to "A Dangerous Method," the juicy-sounding story of a presumably real affair between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender, currently in another sex-obsessed drama, "Shame") and a perverse patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). What's more, this is the latest from director David Cronenberg, whose cinematic transgressions include "Dead Ringers," about identical twin gynecologists, and "Crash," about car-accident fetishists.
Imagine my disappointment, then, to find that "A Dangerous Method" barely nudges the freak-o-meter. I counted just two spankings and one pair of leather handcuffs among the endless scenes of philosophical discussion between Jung, the pioneering psychoanalyst, and his cigar-smoking mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). In this movie, based partly on a stage play by screenwriter Christopher Hampton, the friction is mostly intellectual.
Superficially, Jung cuts a classic figure of closeted kink: successful, respectable, happily married (Sarah Gordon is the prim Emma Jung). Enter Ms. Spielrein, another archetype: highly intelligent, attractively damaged. Quicker than you can say "daddy issues," Sabina strips to her corset and Jung gets out the belt, though their meetings are oddly perfunctory; Cronenberg seems almost bored by such vanilla stuff.
Knightley looks the part -- stick-thin, sunken eyes -- but she overplays Spielrein as a tic-ridden, irritating mess. Mortensen's Freud is far more appealing, a crafty old goat casually probing psyches over dinner, and Vincent Cassel ("Black Swan") briefly shines as the debauched head-shrink Otto Gross, whose easy-to-memorize moral code -- "Never repress anything" -- threatens to shatter Jung's facade.
But Jung barely breaks a sweat. He's a straitjacket that Fassbender can never bust out of, and so the sex we're watching never seems meaningful, liberating or even terribly satisfying. As for danger, it's in the title, not in the movie.
PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington; Malverne Cinema; and Manhasset Cinemas.
BOTTOM LINE Sounds juicy, but it's disappointingly dry, with too much talk and precious little action.