(18) Running time: 101 mins
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Abi Morgan
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie
Reviewed by: David Gillespie, official HCF artist
Since it’s premier at the 68th Venice Film Festival much has been discussed regards Michael Fassbender’s full on performance as a successful young executive struggling with sex addiction in Steve McQueen’s harrowing drama, Shame. So far he has scooped up 8 awards, including gongs at the British Independant Film Awards and the Detroit, Florida, Houston, Vancouver Film Critics Awards, although his absence from the 2012 Oscar nominations is rather shocking? Fassbender is barely out of the director’s lens for the whole of Shame’s running time. The German/ Irish actor has grown into one of the main leading men in Hollywood today, comfortably moving from blockbuster to art house movie. With the release of Shame, he may have delivered his most impressive work to date.
Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is flying high in his corporate career. His boss and closest friend (James Badge Dale) knows that he is the man in his team that can break a deal but he has got concerns regards the dubious material that has destroyed his employee’s computer. Brandon suffers from a compulsive personality that appears to be linked with something that happened to him as a child. His insatiable sexual appetite dictates that he participate in countless one night stands, meetings with prostitutes and regular viewing of online porn. The opening act reveals how structured, clinical and routine this process is for Brandon. His equally troubled and needy sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives unannounced at his flat one evening and this routine is shattered. Sissy has just broken up with her partner and forces her reluctant brother to offer her lodgings for ‘a few days’. Her presence is an emotional rather than physical burden for Brandon. Although his existence is far from happy it does have some form of order to it. Sissy questions his lifestyle, partly as a concerned sibling and also as some form of therapy for her own shortcomings. They both care for each other but are both destroying each other at the same time. Brandon’s one shining light for normality is when he meets pretty work colleague, Marianne (Nicole Beharrie). Rather than identifying her as his next one night stand, he views her as his chance to build a proper relationship.
McQueen’s second full feature is uncomprimising stuff. The faceless and lonely surroundings of Manhattan are reflected by the characters that we witness onscreen. The emphasis is on character development rather than the story. Carey Mulligan is incredible as the self harming sister that floats from one hopeless relationship to another. She thinks Brandon and herself can help one another deal with their past but some wounds cut too deep. ‘We’re not bad people’ she pleads with her brother, but they are slaves to their illness.
James Badge Dale is in equal measures funny and repulsive as Brandon’s boss. Rather than spend time with his family, he trawls the singles’ bars hitting on any attractive woman he meets. In one truly awkward scene, we watch as he hits on Sissy in front of her brother. This flirting continues into Brandon’s flat and bedroom.
The beautiful Nicole Beharie is charming as the love interest but is slightly underused in her role. We finally get to see Brandon’s human side during their interactions with each other.
Shame is certainly not a film to take your parents to see. Although far from titallating, the sex scenes are explicit and at times, disturbing. In one particular sequence, Fassbender’s character is engaged in a threesome and the expression in his face does not suggest someone who is enjoying himself. I did notice that that there were several scenes where Sissy and Brandon walk in on each other while the other is naked or undergoing some form of sexual act. I didn’t really understand the significance of this?
McQueen and Fassbender certainly deserve the attention that they have getting from this project. There is a morbid tone throughout the running time that is only broken in the final quarter when the story moves into melodrama territory. I would certainly recommend that you see this before it disappears from the cinema although it is unlikely that you will be wanting to watch it again in a hurry.