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Movies Review

'Shame' review

By
Released on Thursday, Jan 13 2011

Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan

© Momentum Pictures

Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen teamed up to devastating effect in 2008's Hunger, a brutal depiction of Bobby Sands's 1981 IRA hunger strike. Now, the duo turn their attention to sex addiction as Fassbender stars as corporate stooge Brandon, a man cut adrift in Manhattan wandering from one meaningless encounter to the next.

The arrival of his younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a peroxide blonde singer, throws him into a tailspin and suggests a troubled upbringing for the pair in New Jersey. As the notches on Brandon's bedpost rack up, the further he sinks into a depraved and hopeless abyss.

Shame is an intense, emotional thunderbolt of a movie. Enjoying it may be a task, for it operates in the same difficult-to-watch space as fellow addiction drama Requiem for a Dream, but it's high-impact cinema that'll linger long in the mind once the end credits roll.

Fassbender delivers a career-best performance as Brandon, barring his body and soul on screen. The X-Men star goes full frontal within the first ten minutes of the movie, but it's not at a detriment to the story as McQueen's exceptional direction plunges you into the lead character's tormented state-of-mind.

Shame
Director McQueen enhances Brandon's loneliness by isolating him at the edge of the frame, sometimes in unbroken takes that stretch for minutes. A night time run through the deserted streets of New York is presented as one spectacular tracking shot, hammering home Brandon's solitude. As tensions run high with Sissy, who's crashing at his apartment, he even remarks that he feels boxed into a corner by her very presence.

Her arrival brings Brandon's own life into sharp focus, and he makes an effort to change his ways. His pornography stash is thrown out, and he tries to cool it on the call girls and masturbating in bathroom cubicles. He even attempts to make a 'real' relationship work, sharing an awkward date with secretary Marianne (Nicole Beharie). When it comes to the crunch, though, Brandon can't make it work and slips back into addiction.

Shame really takes hold as it moves into its last third. The sex scenes are explicit and sweaty as Brandon's rage at himself and Sissy surfaces. It's a desperate plunge into New York's seedy bars, brothels and gay sex dens - a compelling if unsettling experience for the viewer.

Praise must go to Carey Mulligan for her against-type turn as Sissy. Like Fassbender, she's utterly convincing as a tortured and complex soul. A rendition of 'New York, New York' - filmed by McQueen in one tight close-up - is incredibly moving. Though Shame plays mainly as a two-hander, the supporting cast all manage to nail their roles in a short amount of screen time. The aforementioned Beharie provides a heartbreaking false ray of hope, while James Badge Dale spins his loser boss into someone entertainingly goofy.

The scenes that best epitomise Shame, though, are in subway cars. In the opening moments, as Fassbender intensely stares at an attractive married woman across the carriage (the hunter eyeing his prey), these entirely wordless moments represent actor and director operating in complete harmony and set the scene for a breathtaking movie.


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