Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie
This is one of the rare times where the synopsis must be described before yours truly even attempts to analyze any of this sucker (no pun intended…yet).
Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a bachelor living in present day New York City. He earns a decent living and resides in a roughly 600 sq.ft. apartment (that’s a good size for that town). Brandon presents himself well and spends his time hanging with his boss (James Badge Dale) as they frequent trendy bars and restaurant lounges. While Brandon always seems composed and confident, he is quite eager to feed his sexual appetite. Basically, the dude’s a sex fiend. Fortunate for him, he has the game to entrance an array of women from all walks of life, and usually ends up sealing the deal moments later. And if he doesn’t by some chance, he’ll shell out for hookers, play on live XXX webcams, or just have a good old fashion mental fantasy with himself in the nearest bathroom.
His smooth and sticky world gets a bit out of sorts when his estranged sister, Cissy (Carey Mulligan), randomly drops in looking for a place to crash. Brandon and Cissy seemingly have no other family, and they reluctantly put up with each other’s weirdness. Also throwing off Brandon’s rhythm is a fellow co-worker in Marianne (Nicole Beharie). She probes Brandon’s mind about relationships; which begins to stimulate his other head, leading him to deal with a few uncomfortable situations.
The subtle psychology that is laced throughout this 101 minute flick is what really keeps this together; especially during the excellent conversation piece between Fassbender and Beharie at a restaurant. What makes this particular scene riveting is how director Steve McQueen just set a still-camera on a tri-pod and captured the dialogue from afar. This mechanic enabled and enhanced the authentic acting of those two – along with the waiter (Robert Montano) – bringing you into the restaurant with them, as you hang on their every word. Aside from the psychology in how the Brandon character views relationship life, his persona is also an instantly attractive element; and the natural intrigue about his sexual vice/practice/perspective, will charm you into seeing where this telling is headed. That is…if you can tolerate the early unnecessary nakedness that is shoved in your face early on and casually reappears from time-to-time (full frontal nudity from both male and female players).
Fassbender’s portrayal does draw a likeness to Christian Bale’s character in “American Psycho.” Granted, no one is being mutilated after a solid romp, but there is a fascinating charisma that draws you in no matter what your view point is on the character’s actions. The guy is in the proverbial zone! Knowing that, “Shame” is definitely showing more in the sexual department as it is rated NC-17. Yet all these moments are tastefully handled all things considered and are not gratuitous by any means, save for the above mentioned the initial sequence; where we first see nudity that doesn’t really have a purpose, but the rest makes perfect sense. And let it be known that these shots are detailed enough to the point where Kevin Bacon’s weaponry may be replaced in your mind (will only make sense if you have seen Wild Things).
Finally – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – Carey Mulligan is doing something worthwhile here. Her performance goes beyond a sad face for once as she shows a full range of her assets (in more ways than you can imagine). While Fassbender owns every moment (since he’s in every shot) Mulligan can successfully snag some of the attention and she deserves every bit of it (I need a drink now).
Overall, “Shame” is real, fascinating, provocative, and told in a respectful & humble manner through the lens. Sure the wrapping up (hopefully Fassbender did) of this isn’t mind blowing, but that’s not the intentions of this quiet script. All the key sequences – and you’ll know when the epic sounding score slowly fills the room/scene – are laced in all the other facets of the screenplay. The performances are impeccable and it was pleasurable (pun intended) to watch every nuance of their actions within this methodically candid story. And I’m out of adjectives.
By Joe Belcastro