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An intense three-way relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and mental patient-turned-psychologist Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is at the heart of this thought-provoking and well-acted intellectual drama.

When a hysterical Speilrein arrives at a clinic in Zurich, Jung is given a chance to apply Freud’s groundbreaking “talking cure” to treat her. As Speilrein recovers, she and Jung begin an affair, while Jung and Freud battle over the future of psychoanalysis.

David Cronenberg directs with precision and clarity, taking advantage of some wonderful location filming to present a visually satisfying portrait of Zurich and Vienna on the eve of the First World War. The battle of intellects between Jung and Freud is compelling, with Mortensen and Fassbender both delivering superb performances. We are also treated to a brief cameo from Vincent Cassel.

Unfortunately Cronenberg’s direction seems detached at times, and fails to imbue the Jung-Speilrein storyline with enough excitement and interest. Even the sexual scenes fall flat, while Knightley’s jaw-jutting performance in the first act is overplayed, although she does improve as the film progresses.

A Dangerous Method is somewhat sustained by fine central performances, and absorbing scenes containing Freud and Jung. However when attention switches away from the ideas and toward the unsatisfying personal drama between Jung and Speilrein later on, the film suffers as a result.