Film Review: Shame

shame headerSteve McQueen’s Shame features the best performance of the year in Michael Fassbender and might also be the best film of 2011 on top of that.

Our protagonist is Brandon, an affluent sex addict in contemporary New York City who spends almost every extra moment in his life “pleasuring” himself.  Whether it is sex with women, masturbating at work, using call girls, looking at internet porn, he does it all with almost reckless abandon.  As the film progresses certain events lead Brandon to attempt to come to terms with his addiction as he finally takes notice to the world around him.  The journey is dark and uneasy and watching Brandon spiral can be a terrifying thing to watch.

The biggest factor in Brandon feeling a desire for change is the reappearance of his sister, Sissy, who has quite the damaged life of her own.  A drifter of sorts, Sissy doesn’t have the wealth and lifestyle her brother has, but she seems to find success as a lounge singer of sorts.  Sissy’s appearance shines a light on Brandon’s issues, even beyond his sexual addictions, and the two become at odds over a number of things.

So yes, this movie is NC-17.

It might be a bit graphic for you if you are afraid of a large penis, but I really don’t think you should let that shy you away from seeing this phenomenal film.  Shame is the sophomore feature from director Steve McQueen and it is an improvement on the already stellar Hunger from a couple years ago.  McQueen’s technical prowess is incredible and the work he gets out of his actors is just as inspiring.  McQueen fills his film with single takes that let the tension build and asks his actors to turn in top notch performances without the benefit of a cut.  Whether static or tracking, the single takes never fail to impress and McQueen’s framing makes it one of the finest and more unique looking films of the year.  McQueen also impresses with his musical choices that the contemporary setting allows for that Hunger didn’t.  Harry Escott’s original score is also a treat and it accompanies the licensed music perfectly.  The film’s editing can’t go unnoticed either as it moves along at the perfect pace, knowing when to let the film breathe.  The third act bender is also a triumph of editing and the sequence will go down as one of the most memorable of the year.

The film is a showcase for its actors, Fassbender in particular, and everyone steps up to the challenge.  Carey Mulligan plays Sissy and she continues to show that she is one of the best actresses around.  She is asked to sing (does great work), get naked (bares it all), and act in some pretty intense scenes alongside Fassbender.  Brandon and Sissy’s relationship is a damaged one, one that you could infer sexual abuse upon them both, and while they have a brother/sister love, anger lies just below the surface for both of them.  Fassbender and Mulligan both nail their ends of the relationship and the awkward sexual tension they create makes things even creepier/weirder. Nicole Beharie is only in a couple a scenes, but she humanizes the picture as much as possible.  Not only does she participate in the longest take in the film, she helps make it compelling by going toe to toe with Fassbender.  Beharie also does a great job in an incredibly raw love scene that again asks for her to create authentic chemistry with Fassbender and the duo doesn’t disappoint.  James Badge Dale is in the only other relevant role and he provides some much needed comedic relief in his scenes.  Badge Dale plays the pompous douche to a T and he is more than game to give himself over to the part.

The real star is Fassbender though and he is just astonishing here.  He puts everything on the table and holds nothing back in every element of the role.  The part allows him to show an incredible range and he is asked to carry almost every scene in the film.  I really can’t imagine Fassbender being much better than he is here.  The third act bender in particular is a triumph of acting, editing, music and direction that cemented the film’s greatness for me; Fassbender in the hole in the wall bar, incredible!

In the end, Shame very well might be my favorite film of the year.  Unique, skillful, and full of great performances there is a lot to love in Shame and nothing to take down.  Fassbender delivers a performance that demands to be seen, so throw away your inhibitions at the door and dive into the world of Shame as soon as you can.

Shame is an A+

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