Saturday, 7 January 2012

Review: Shame

Rating: 18
Duration: 101 mins

The breakthrough of 2011 may be awarded to Ryan Gosling, but dismissing the competition would be a vast oversight. Appearing in no less than five movies over the past year, including X-Men: First Class and Jane Eyre, Michael Fassbender is without doubt one of the brightest talents to emerge as of late.

Following on from Steve McQueen's acclaimed d├ębut drama, Hunger, Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan star in his latest efforts about a New Yorker and his inner battle with sex addiction.

The adult-themed, intense story of Brandon (Fassbender), exists in a very private, sordid and emotionally isolated life as he indulges in his addiction until younger sister Sissy (Mulligan), turns up unexpectedly seeking somewhere to stay. Suffice to say Brandon is not keen on the invasion of his personal space, as McQueen depicts the, at times, explosive co-existence of the siblings as their troubled lives collide with severe consequence.

Fassbender issues a powerful and very accomplished performance as his character swings from charming to   brooding; kind and considerate to overtly aggressive, with a genuine volatility of a person constantly battling with his demons at every turn: whilst on the outside he appears to be pleasantly suave when it comes to the opposite sex, his sexual depravity and obsessive womanising more often than not takes over.

Mulligan also offers a fine performance as Sissy, who seems to be the element that pushes Brandon to the brink as he tries in vain to submerge his problems from those closest to him as well as himself. In fact, both actors work superbly together as we are exposed to moments of supportive embrace, followed by extreme resentment, which adds genuine intensity to the situation.

Steve McQueen delivers an accomplished film that delves into the emotionally complex lives of Brandon and Sissy. He captures the essence of the city they inhabit, notably through such scenes as a late night jog that literally tracks Brandon through the rich diversity of the streets: it lasts for a while as a continuous shot and is a delight to watch. McQueen also oddly manages to convey a somewhat conflicting, yet engaging view of Brandon: the semi-glamorous lifestyle of a liberal bachelor, versus the painfully damaged deviancy that allures him on a daily basis.

It's no shock to learn that there are several explicit sexual scenes that are key to the plot, but then were you expecting anything else? The close-up reveal of  Fassbender's penis within the opening few minutes is an indication of things to come, as the narrative takes us through his day-to-day endeavours: Internet pornography, prostitution, as well as a frontal snippet of Mulligan's torso, yet is contextually in keeping with  the story without feeling contrived or frivolous. 

Amongst several beautifully shot scenes, perhaps the one that stands out more than any is Sissy's rendition of New York, New York: it encompasses the heartfelt sorrow of her character. It also tonally defines the film itself, as she treads ever so carefully through the song, with a prolonged shot of her eclectic, impassioned face for the entire duration: McQueen certainly knows how to engage his audience and capture the mood to striking effect.

It's a shame (no pun intended) that this character driven piece will be swept aside come the Oscars: it's far too brash and overt to fit in with the conservative conformity of the committee, yet hopefully won't devalue its worth and merit as a great film.

VERDICT: Shame is a fascinating character study of a man plagued by insecurity and an inability to emotionally relate to, well, anybody. A dark, and arguably seedy story, given a sense of elegance, class and beauty by director McQueen, allows Fassbender - and Mulligan to a lesser extent - to resonate in their roles. The explicit nature of the film will undoubtedly turn some viewers away, but be sure of one thing: these will be the ones missing out on something well worth the ticket price.