Friday, December 9, 2011

A Reel Review: SHAME

German/Irish actor Michael Fassbender made a huge splash on American shores in 2011, enthralling most of us Yanks with his portrayal of a young and vengeful Magneto in X-MEN FIRST (CL)ASS. In director Steve McQueen’s sexual drama SHAME, Fassbender gets to flex his muscles (and his buttocks) in proving that he has the chops that transcends any or all comic flicks.

Brandon (Fassbender) is a sex addict living in NYC. Addicted to sex much like a druggie or alcoholic, Brandon has sex with a different women nearly every night; either charming them with a simple smile or his wallet. When he is alone, he relives his tensions by surfing porn on the web or masturbating in the bathrooms stalls at work. Things get complicated when his messed-up younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up at his doorstep with nowhere to go. Sissy begins an affair with Brandon’s boss David (James Badge Dale), and seeing himself reflected in the situation, tries to cleanse himself of his addiction; a move which may or may not be the best for him.

SHAME doesn’t have much of a plot other than watching Brandon embrace and/or struggle with his addiction. His addiction is the story; the way it runs his life and determines his every move. SHAME could have easily been about the addictions of booze and drugs, but since sex is more fun to watch on-screen, why not? But where SHAME seems to really shine is in the contrasting characters. Brandon, Sissy and David have different personalities and traits that are a joy to watch on screen as they clash and rotate around each other.

Director Steve McQueen displays a directing style that takes a while to get used to. There are many, many unsettling and uncomfortable LONG takes; static shots that don’t move for what seem like forever. It’s a great tension builder, and the challenge is really upon the actors to pull off the scene in one attempt. SHAME has to set a record for the fewest cuts in a feature film, and it often feels like a good stage drama. But McQueen also shows talent with some movement; there are some endless tracking shots that have to be seen to be believed. The numerous sex scenes are not gratuitous, and are all a means to an end. Some love-making is filmed very bluntly and exposed, while others are composed beautifully.

Fassbender nails the role in a subtly powerful performance. He is clearly filled with tension throughout the film, and if that wasn’t convincing enough he lets it out in explosive bursts. As good as he is, he is nearly upstaged by Carey Mulligan, who in the often-seen role of the screwed up family member, brings new life to it and is never un-convincing.

SHAME spends a lot of time on its characters, but oddly lacks any sort of backstory to any of them. How Brandon got so addicted and how Sissy got so messed up remains a bit of a mystery. McQueen keeps his characters at a distance, which is a bit of a ploy to keep the audience hooked. Still, SHAME manages to hang with you long after you leave the theatre; it is a sobering lesson to all in re-examining life even when things seem great.


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