Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Reverend’s Reviews: Full Frontal Fassbender
Most immediately, Fassbender co-stars beginning today in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method from Sony Pictures Classics. He portrays the pioneering early 20th-century psychiatrist Carl Jung, who falls in with both a miscast Viggo Mortensen (Cronenberg’s go-to guy of late, having previously starred in the director’s Eastern Promises and A History of Violence) as Sigmund Freud, Jung’s mentor, and a deeply disturbed mental patient played by a Russian-accented Keira Knightley.
Fassbender is excellent, and Knightley could end up with an Academy Award nomination for her initially over-the-top but ultimately affecting turn. Although their sex scenes (which primarily involve clothed spanking) are more silly than scandalous, both seem to invest their hearts as well as their bodies in them. I enjoyed Mortensen’s livelier than usual performance as Freud but can’t help but feel busy Oscar winner Christoph Waltz would have been a better, more authentically European choice.
While A Dangerous Method is handsomely-produced and -designed, what should have been an intriguing story fell pretty flat for me. Cronenberg directs with no particular flair, and Christopher Hampton’s talky screenplay doesn’t delve enough into Jung’s hinted-at devotion to mysticism or the Jewish Freud’s cultural/religious insecurities (“Put not your trust in Aryans,” Freud warns cryptically at one point.) The film is now playing in Los Angeles and New York City and will expand nationally soon.
Fassbender also headlines and bares all in Fox Searchlight’s Shame, scheduled to open in select cities on December 2nd. The actor won the prestigious Best Actor award at this year’s Venice Film Festival for his fully-committed performance as Brandon, a contemporary NYC sex addict. All seems to be going well for Brandon both at his day job and with his indiscriminate nightly escapades. Once his rootless sister (Carey Mulligan) enters the picture, however, all hell truly breaks loose.
Screenwriters Steve McQueen (who also directs) and Abi Morgan heavily imply all manner of sexual abuse and incest in Brandon’s and Sissy’s pasts but hesitate from revealing anything definitive. As a result, Shame tends to wallow in its graphic sexual scenes (both heterosexual and homosexual, and far from arousing) rather than provide any illumination or redemption. I still can’t believe that the prospect of Brandon’s participation in a 12-step group for those suffering from sexual addiction is never raised, despite Shame being set in a city as chock-full of fellow addicts and support groups as Manhattan.
Fassbender and Mulligan may deservedly be honored with year-end critics groups’ citations for their arresting work here, even though Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) and George Clooney (The Descendants) are the current front runners for the Best Actor Oscar. The strong-stomached will likely consider Shame worthwhile viewing based exclusively on Fassbender’s performance and/or his frequently displayed, admittedly impressive physical endowment. No offense, Michael, but I have every confidence you are made of stronger stuff and look forward to even finer, predominantly clothed performances from you in the future.
A Dangerous Method: C+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.