NYFF 2011 SHAME Review: A Brutal, Emotionally Ravaging Look At Sex Addiction

Shame is vibrant, exciting, deeply moving filmmaking, real cinema to get lost in and ponder for days afterwards. Michael Fassbender is a revelation.

rating: 4

Let€™s get right to the point €“ Shame is one of the best films of the year. Steve McQueen€™s follow-up to Hunger is a riveting picture that should permanently establish Michael Fassbender (the star of Hunger who left an impression on mainstream audiences last summer in X:Men: First Class) and Carey Mulligan (An Education, Never Let Me Go, and another of this year€™s best, Drive) among the foremost talents of their generation. The two are actors who€™ve earned accolades in the past but McQueen manages to draw performances deftly pitched between seething drama and quiet desperation, repressed fury and resigned hopelessness. Fassbender plays Brandon, a handsome, successful man making a good living in modern-day New York. His tiny Manhattan apartment is a reflection of his inner self, compartmentalized and devoid of personality - Brandon is capable of charming politeness and little else. He€™s also a sex addict, deep into the clutches of his addiction, which infiltrates every aspect of his life, from his regular sessions with prostitutes at home to his workplace computer, scoured by tech support after porn site viruses invade his hard drive. Fassbender makes this lifestyle work, coasting on good looks and clear confidence and intelligence €“ the money certainly helps facilitate regular sessions. When Mulligan€™s carefree, damaged sister Sissy bursts into Brandon€™s life and occupies the already stifling apartment, the disturbing relationship between the siblings acts a catalyst for Brandon€™s habits giving way, leaving a man standing on the precipice to self-destruction while recovery may be on the horizon. Like Hunger, McQueen€™s second film is a showcase of the director€™s considerable visual gifts €“ the framing is just so and the pace of the film is an exact rhythm that successfully mimics Brandon€™s internal state. McQueen has a real passion for single takes and Shame features several outstanding sequences, including Brandon€™s jog through mid-town Manhattan, a restaurant-set date that becomes high comedy thanks for an overly helpful waiter and an painfully intimate sex scene between Brandon and Marianne, a co-worker played by Nicole Beharie in a full-bodied (no pun intended) supporting role that illuminates an actress with great potential. An early scene of Mulligan crooning Sinatra€™s immortal €œNew York, New York€ is breathtaking. Be prepared to read plenty of pundits like myself expounding on the strength of Fassbender€™s performance, which could easily dominate the film but instead finds the actor finds a balance €“ his Brandon is neither a maniacal sex fiend or a reserved psycho, but a human being who struggles fitfully against a current, a need to fulfill himself time and time again. There are light hints at a past that may haunt Brandon and Sissy but nothing critical is revealed and we are left to ponder why and how he developed this addiction, which he tries honestly to beat midway through the film, dumping his porn reserves and clutching his head in desperation that morphs into reckless abandonment and a drive to exorcize some guilt he must feel eating away. It's indicative of the film's strength that despite ample, frequently graphic depictions of sex, it doesn't leave a memorable impression on the viewer - after all, why should it when it seems to be mean so little to our lead? There€™s so much to say about Shame, and so many thoughts still running through this writer€™s head, that this review seems almost perfunctory, running through the accomplishments of the film without digging deeper. Make no mistake about it, Shame is vibrant, exciting, deeply moving filmmaking, real cinema to get lost in and ponder for days afterwards. Fassbender leads an exemplary cast while McQueen and crew (accolades due to DP Sean Bobbitt and screenwriter Abi Morgan, among doubtless many other) create a lived-in world that captures my hometown€™s divisive look and some of the lifestyles in this great city. It would be a shame (pun intended) to see this film passed over by prudish critics or award committees €“ it€™s the real deal. Shame begins a limited U.S. release on Dec 2nd, and opens a month later in the UK on Jan 13th, 2012.
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The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, and co-host of "It's No Timecop" podcast! Find me on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...