Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

26 December 2011

Plays into Movies So Frequently Signal Disappointment

This isn't always the case, of course, and War Horse may turn out to be a fascinating exception to the rule of 2011, but if The Ides of March and A Dangerous Method set the rule, then the rule is disappointment.

These two films also belong together because they're both made by wonderful directors. But Ides of March is nothing like George Clooney's other two films, and A Dangerous Method seems a wide departure from David Cronenberg's last two films. Both directors have taken on projects this year that are really interesting to them thematically, but which (to my mind) had scripts that basically did not work.

To start, the chief problem with both of these movies is that they depend almost exclusively on talk. The emotional, narrative, and thematic life of these movies is so heavily dependent on dialogue that I actually got tired during both of these films. Shut up!!, I kept thinking. Why must they continue to talk about everything? Doesn't anyone simply have a feeling without describing it in the dialogue? Ides fares better in this department than does Method, but not much better.

There are some good sex sequences in A Dangerous Method, but even these are very brief, and in a film about masochism and sexual freedom, it seems odd not to tell at least part of the story through the sex sequences (as Steve McQueen's Shame does so brilliantly).

I blame the source material. I saw Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure many many years ago and didn't think much of it, and when I saw Beau Willimon's play Farragut North a couple years ago I couldn't figure out why anyone even produced the thing in the first place, much less why big stars were in it and why it was being made into a movie.

The main problem with Ides (and Farragut) is that one can't really care too much about these characters – Ides is a very cynical film about rather idealistic people. The main problem with Method is that even if we may care about these characters (and I did! – if you know me you know that I went into the movie already loving Sigmund Freud) we never really understand why they do the things they do. Method trades on the idea that we know a whole lot about the characters that Cronenberg never actually tells us. I feel like I know a lot about Freud and Jung, but I never really felt like I understood all of what was going on in this movie.

There is more to say, of course. The acting is very good in both films. Ryan Gosling, Max Minghella (I love him), and Marisa Tomei are all great in The Ides of March and Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel, and especially Viggo Mortensen are all great in A Dangerous Method, but neither film works, and all the acting – and this may be because of the source material as well – feels a little bit like overacting.

Let me say once again that I love David Cronenberg as a director, and I might love George Clooney as a director even more. I think these two men are original, fascinating, important talents. I just think their offerings for 2011 were not very good.