Venice Film Fest: Buzz (good and bad) for Keira Knightley


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David Cronenberg’s ‘A Dangerous Method’ premiered Friday at the Venice Film Festival, and already Keira Knightley’s performance seems to be becoming a topic of buzz. Depending on whom you believe, it’s either Oscar-worthy, or a bit of an embarrassment. The film centers on the friendship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (played by Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, respectively) and the brilliant female patient-student, Sabina (Knightley), who came between them.

Cronenberg is known for his passion for gore, but ‘A Dangerous Method’ seems to steer clear of that in his new film. Justin Chung, writing for Variety, praises the movie overall as ‘elegant’ and ‘coolly restrained’ -- but zeroes in on Knightley’s performance as a possible trouble spot.


‘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,’ he said. ‘The spectacle of the usually refined actress flailing about, taking on a grotesque underbite, and stammering and wailing in a Russian accent is perhaps intended to clash with her costars’ impeccable restraint, but does so here in unintended ways. But as Sabina’s condition improves, so does Knightley’s performance.’

Xan Brooks, in a negative review for the Guardian, says that, nevertheless, ‘Knightley provides the Oscar bait,’ while David Gritten, writing for Britain’s Telegraph, says Cronenberg ‘has coaxed a performance from Knightley so ferocious in these early scenes that it seems likely to become the film’s main talking point. It’s also a risky strategy, as Sabina’s behaviour is extreme to the point of being alienating.’

But the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy has praise for ‘Knightley’s excellent work as a character with a very long emotional arc,’ saying: ‘Screaming and alarmingly jutting out her jaw in extremis, Knightley starts at a pitch so high as to provoke fear of where she’ll go from there. Fortunately, the direction is down; as her character, under Jung’s fastidious care, gradually gets a grip on her issues and can assess herself with a measure of intellectual composure, the performance modulates into something fully felt and genuinely impressive.’

More reactions to come -- the film will roll out at next week’s Toronto International Film Festival.


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-- Julie Makinen