Shame is an intense character study that focuses on a sex addict living in New York. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a handsome successful business man who underneath the surface can’t control his sexual impulses on a daily basis which include masturbating in workplace bathrooms, picking up women at night clubs and bars, hiring prostitutes and surfing the web for all sorts of online porn. He never seems satisfied always trying to act on the next compulsion. However he seems pretty good at hiding his issues and maintaining a routine that is until his younger sister Sissy played by Carey Mulligan comes uninvited to stay at his apartment for awhile.
This is the second time that Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen have worked together, Hunger another very vesicle but extremely rewarding examination of political repression in the 1980’s under the Thatcher reign is a must watch for any student of film. Michael Fassbender already has an increasingly diverse resume from films like Fish Tank to X-Men: First Class. Here he gives one of the best performances of the year as a man who just can’t stop himself from acting on his sexual desires to the point of being out of control. He plays Brandon with a deep seeded anger and selfishness. He’s never satisfied always looking for his next impulse to act on. There’s a sexual odyssey sequence that involves his character having group, gay, self and oral sex and when it has ended you’re surprised he’s still able to stand. He completely commits to the character and performance showing the audience everything, it’s very daring to say the least. It’s also one that’s very isolated he keeps everyone at a distance never really allowing anyone to break through. On a side note he gives Huey Lewis’ peeing scene in Short Cuts a run for its money!
Carey Mulligan is also very good in this picture playing his dependent musician sister who flips Brandon’s world upside down. She’s as venerable as he is but also stubborn fighting with him constantly. One of the best moments between Mulligan and Fassbender is when they’re sitting together on the couch having an honest conversation about their estranged relationship. Only two truly skilled actors could deliver scathing dialogue and raw emotion as these two talented performers have done.
Other roles in the film include James Badge Dale as Fassbender’s boss who leeches onto him after work to score with women. However he seems to embarrass himself more often then not. Nicole Beharie is a fresh face who plays a fellow co-worker who brings a lot of warmth to the film as a love interest but also someone who Brandon could have a real relationship with. Their scenes together walking on the street and in a fancy restaurant were the same awkward waiter seems to keep forgetting to tell them about things on the menu truly sizzles with chemistry. Sadly you know it’s doomed from the start.
I also feel that one of the great talents of this film is Steve McQueen’s direction. He’s a visual artist that treats each frame of this movie as if it were a painting making sure that it’s filled and staged with interesting images. One of the darkest sequences of the film involves Brandon’s total breakdown and sexual odyssey entertaining night clubs, picking fights with pissed off boyfriends of women he’s hitting on. The other great thing about McQueen’s direction is that he likes long takes this was evident in Hunger but here he really let’s you observer the main character’s habits weather it be a tracking shot of Fassbender jogging at night or a close up of Carey Mulligan singing a beautiful version of New York, New York he has total control of the scenes. Having access to your addiction can be way too much and it comes across clearly. The framing of this movie is also quite unique in that you get to see conversations from behind the two characters, sex scenes were the shots are both hand held and go in and out of focus etc. I’d compare McQueen to David Cronenberg not that he’s making genre films but showing the audience very human things that might upset or disturb us.
The only scene that felt tacked on comes near the end of the film that involves the resolution of the two leads. It feels as if the script just gives too much away and could’ve been less predictable. It’s a small complaint from another very tough but powerful film.
I also appreciated the seriousness of tone it could’ve easily been a charming Woody Allen sex addict-esque romp or a raunchy summer comedy but keeping a level head and showing one character’s true ups and deviating lows of a human being with problems is really hard to make and the crew pull this off in spades.
Also there is a very powerful scene involving no dialogue and just a classical score. Brandon is on the subway and looks at a pretty woman (Lucy Walters) they have a attraction two each other and you can tell that this young married woman is having thought about the man sitting across from her but she’s ashamed. All these themes and ideas are brilliantly connived without a single word uttered. That is the power of cinema at work.
I encourage anybody who’s interested in art house fair or filmmaking to go and see this film when it opens this winter it’s one of the very best films of the year with incredible performances and a director who’s career has just gotten started.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars