Shame * * * * *

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Director: Steve McQueen.
Screenplay: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie, Lucy Walters, Alex Manette, Hannah Ware, Elizabeth Masucci, Rachel Farrar, Mari-Ange Ramirez, Robert Montano.

In 2008, director Steve McQueen made his directorial debut with the devastating drama “Hunger” about the last six weeks in the life of Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands. Michael Fassbender was his lead in that unflinching portrayal. Three years later, they reunite for this equally powerful drama about sex-addiction.

Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) is a successful New York businessman. He leads a comfortable lifestyle, including that of a bachelor, where he spends most of his evenings sleeping with different women. It all seems normal on the surface but the unexpected arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) upturns a deeper side to him. It appears that his sexual appetite may be more serious than he’s been willing to confront.

Michael Fassbender has been steadily building a reputation for himself since he came to attention in McQueen’s debut and followed it up with consistent turns in Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds“. He’s an actor in very high demand at the moment and judging by this performance alone, you can see why. This is as good as any he has delivered. If not better. Sometimes actors go above and beyond the call of duty; Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant” and Charlotte Gainsbourg in “AntiChrist” are a notable couple. Fassbender can be, courageously, included amongst them. He exposes himself in every sense of the word and delivers the most fearless and vulnerable performance of 2011. His portrayal of Brandon is a deeply complex piece of work. He’s an enigmatic character that grooms and dresses immaculately. He takes pride in his appearance but not his actions. He cannot connect with people on an intimate level and as a result, develops a voracious appetite for sexual encounters and material. His lack of connection also extends to his emotionally fragile sister, who so obviously needs his help and it’s the very arrival of his sibling that brings his shame to the forefront. His use of pornography, prostitutes and masterbation can’t be hidden anymore. This is when he has to confront his own self-loathing and sexual addictions. His encounters are all meaningless and any that do show meaning, he can’t perform. This is a truly harrowing character study of the failure or inability to truly connect with people – especially in the times and congested environments we live in. Despite the numerous sexual encounters, there is nothing erotic about this film. It’s purely focused on the turmoil of one man’s spiralling journey of self-harm. Carey Mulligan cannot go unmentioned for her emotional performance here also. Her role is not as in depth as the protagonist and she has less to work with but she’s the catalyst for the unravelling of the film and brings a much needed heart into the mix.
McQueen’s direction is near flawless and meticulous in it’s detail. He takes a step back from his actors and captures moments in facial expressions and eye contact. Words don’t always need to be said and if anything, it’s all the better for it. He allows an intelligence from his audience and he’s aided by some stark and clinical cinematography by Sean Bobbitt, in capturing the emptiness in these damaged peoples lives.
I have now lost count of the amount of film’s and performances of 2011 that were, unforgivably, overlooked at the Oscars. This is most certainly one of them. The title of this film should be shouted continuously in the faces of the Academy voters. It’s a disgrace it was omitted.

This may prove to be a difficult or controversial film for some people. It’s certainly not for the prudish or sensitive of heart but I, for one, think it’s essential viewing. A powerful and provocative collaboration between Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender has developed and I can only hope they continue to make more films in the future.

Mark Walker

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21 Responses to “Shame * * * * *”

  1. Wow. I tried counting the stars you gave this over and over to verify if it was really five, but apparently it was. Didn’t expect you to like this that much; this is the best review I’ve read for it. I haven’t seen it, and I probably never will. It looks like a morbidly perverted sex movie. Hell, I’m only 14, so there’s no way I’d even be allowed to see this NC-17 rated movie anyway, haha. 🙂 Nice review, Mark.

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    • It’s a definite five stars. I seen it last night and can’t get it out of my head. I try not to dish five stars out too regularly but this is deserving of it. It’s a powerful piece of mature filmmaking and one of the best of last year. Originally, i thought Clooney was the deserving actor for the Oscar but Fassbender was robbed.

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  2. I ended up giving it a 4,5/5 rating, but basically I’m with you. It’s a fantastic movie and Fassbender’s performance is one of a kind. And just as you say – despite all the sex in it, it’s not even remotely erotic. There was only one detail I didn’t buy into: I thought the NY-NY song scene was just too long. I got impatient. But apart from that – just excellent. I haven’t seen Hunger, but I really should.

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    • I absolutely loved this film. I can’t shake it from my head since seeing it. “One of a kind” performance from Fassbender is spot on. What an actor he really is. How many other people would have even went near this role?
      I think the NY, NY song went on too long also but I think it was important to labour the drudgery that these characters feel in their own lives. At least, that’s what I took from it. I can’t praise this film enough. I seen Hunger years ago and it blew me away. Another marvellous Fassbender turn. I think I’ll have to revisit it though and I’m looking forward to doing so.

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  3. I would watch any McQueen/Fassbender collaboration. Literally anything they did, I would watch.
    Great review, Mark! So great, I could watch this one again…

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    • Thanks Andy! Very kinds words indeed. And this is no easy film to sit through again. I’m with you though, McQueen and Fassbender seem to singing from the same hymn sheet. I really hope they have more works in the pipeline.

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      • I hope so too. I’ve found myself thinking of this film in one way or another pretty much every day since I watched it. It has stayed with me much more than even Hunger

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      • Yeah, I’m the same. I don’t think this will leave me for quite some time. The mark of an excellent movie. I can’t wait to rewatch Hunger now. It’s been a few years.

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  4. Great movie. You give it 5 stars, I give it 4 yet I agree with everything you say. The cinematography, directing, writing and acting are all great. The NYNY performance did meander quite a bit, though. I still think George Clooney deserved the Oscar but Fassbender should have, at least, been nominated. Carey Mulligan was superb. I can’t believe she wasn’t nominated for this or Drive.

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    • I can’t believe this film was ignored at the Oscars. Maybe, it’s because it’s risqué material but I still think it’s scandalous. I totally agree about the NY NY scene. It did go on too long but I think it was on purpose. The song itself has positive lyrics but Brandon and Sissy didn’t seem to escape their troubles by moving there and this was reflected in the depressing and disillusioned way that Sissy sang it. I think it’s also a personal song for them in some ways. Maybe linked to their past. Either way though, it still could have been trimmed a little I suppose.

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      • Yeah, it wasn’t a terrible scene because it was one of the best for Mulligan and Fassbender. Their faces were incredibly expressive.

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      • Exactly, that’s why I think the song possibly meant something to them. At the very least it had an effect on Brandon. He does say at one point in the film that he wanted to be a musician. Music seems to be something that links the siblings.

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  5. Unfortunately i didn’t get round to seeing this when it came out at the cinema but i’ve got it preordered on Blu Ray, so i’m looking forward to giving it a watch when it arrives, even more so now i’ve read your review.

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  6. Terrific review. I believe Fassbender and McQueen are working together again on McQueen’s next film. At this rate, their collaboration is going to end up as one of the greatest actor-director pairings of all time (right up their with De Niro & Scorsese).

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    • Thanks a lot Neil. Yeah, that’s two out of two so far for McQueen and Fassbender. I recently heard the name of their next film but I forget it now. I think your right though, it’s an intriguing collaboration.

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  7. I haven’t seen this yet (for shame!), but it is in my DVD pile right now. I’m looking forward to watching this purely for the intricate plot devices and characterisation you understand!

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  8. Is it bad that I still haven’t seen this film? Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

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