Critics’ Response: Viggo Mortensen shines as Freud in ‘A Dangerous Method’

David Cronenberg’s historical drama “A Dangerous Method” premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Friday and, so far, the reviews have been largely mixed, praising the film’s smarts and stars while noting its chilled tone and dry nature.

“Method” stars Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud who, along with close friend and professional rival Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) develops the new found art of psychoanalysis while the two find themselves torn apart by a sexually troubled patient/student who comes between them (Keira Knightley).

Justin Chang of Variety calls the film “elegant” and “coolly restrained,” while lamenting the “absence of gut-level impact” and noting that the slow-moving, talky approach may deaden some commercial attention.  He singles out Mortensen’s performance as Freud, noting that the actor steals the film, while stating, “rather less assured, and initially the film’s most problematic element, is Knightley, whose brave but unskilled depiction of hysteria at times leaves itself open to easy laughs.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy calls the film “Precise, lucid and thrillingly disciplined.” He admits that Knightley’s performance starts over-the-top, but is brought back down to a more suitable level. “Along with Knightley’s excellent work as a character with a very long emotional arc indeed, Fassbender brilliantly conveys Jung’s intelligence, urge to propriety and irresistible hunger for shedding light on the mysteries of the human interior,” writes McCarthy. “A drier, more contained figure, Freud is brought wonderfully to life by Mortensen in a bit of unexpected casting that proves entirely successful.”

David Gritten of the Daily Telegraph agrees: “It’s Knightley that one remembers, for a full-on portrayal that is gutsy and potentially divisive in equal parts.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian provides an early voice of dissent. While acknowledging the intelligence of the script and the solid performances, reviewer Xan Brooks contends that “‘A Dangerous Method’ feels heavy and lugubrious. It is a tale that comes marinated in port and choked on pipe-smoke. You long for it to hop down from the couch, throw open the windows and run about in the garden.”

Noted critic Emmanuel Levy comments on the film’s Oscar chances. “Knowing the Academy voters” conservative tastes, ” he says “I don”t think “Dangerous Method” is Oscar-caliber as a picture, but its three main actors should receive nominations for their work: Fassbender and Keira Knightly in the lead categories and Viggo Mortensen in the supporting one.”

Mortensen previously collaborated with Cronenberg on “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises.”

“A Dangerous Method” opens in the U.S. November 23.