Review: Shame (18)

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

The more I think about Shame, the better it gets, which is always the mark of a good film. It is easy to get sidetracked by the sex (and there’s a lot of it – not for the easily offended or French children of 11 or under) but it is in no way exploitative, trashy or pornographic.  Steve McQueen’s second film uses sex as a battering ram to dish out a full-frontal assault on the audience.

Brandon (Fassbender) is a successful New Yorker with seemingly everything going for him.  He’s got a way with the ladies, a successful career, but there’s something not quite right. He’s seems a bit too obsessed with sex, but that’s natural isn’t it?  One day, his sister Sissy (Mulligan) arrives and suddenly the cracks start to appear in Brandon’s calm exterior. There’s something rotten in Brandon.

Our first glimpse of the relationship between Sissy and Brandon is in one of the films most iconic scenes. Brandon and his boss arrive to watch his sister sing in a swanky club, and we’re treated to a mesmerising slow-burning rendition of New York, New York. As the camera alternates its focus between close-ups of Sissy and Brandon, and as the lyrics sink in, we are offered our first indication of the relationship between them. Sissy carries with her the baggage of their past which Brandon has securely locked away.

Both leads are superb and fearless.  Fassbender brilliantly portrays a ticking time-bomb who is slowly imploding whilst Mulligan shows a woman who can’t stop erupting. We see Brandon’s body language change and his demeanour crumble as he slowly comes to terms with the realisation of his addiction. The camera lingers on his face throughout the film, as we witness him fight an inner-battle against his primal instincts. Mulligan plays the little girl lost roll superbly, she is simultaneously full-on and subtle.

Shame starts out slowly, but as the cracks appear in Brandon’s façade, the pace increases, leading to a frantic animalistic crescendo. The descent into an addiction is manifest in Brandon, with something not quite human emerging from his charming exterior. Increasingly desperate to sate his desires his animalistic tendencies start to take over, and as the pressure mounts, Brandon’s humanity steadily vaporises. McQueen leans heavily on his visual art background throughout the film, producing a powerful work of great stature.

Never has a film title been more apt.