When the Oscar nominees were announced a few months back, it wasn’t entirely surprising that Shame, one of the most controversial films of last year, was left in the cold. While the best picture snub may have been somewhat expected due to the graphic nature of the film, it was unfortunate to see the masterful performance by Michael Fassbender go unrecognized, as well as the wonderful supporting work of Carey Mulligan.
Shame is the second film written and directed by Steve McQueen (with an assist from co-writer Abi Morgan) and it is also Fassbender’s second collaboration with the director (the first being the critically acclaimed 2008 film Hunger). Next year, the actor-director pair will have another film together, titled Twelve Years a Slave.
Fassbender stars as Brandon Sullivan, a New Yorker who looks to live a normal life to those around him, when in actuality he suffers from a sex addiction that controls his entire existence. While his days are filled with random sexual encounters, Internet video sex calls, and simple porn, Brandon does seem to at least have his condition somewhat handled; though that all changes when his sister Sissy (Mulligan) shows up unannounced on his doorstep with nowhere else to go.
The relationship Brandon and Sissy share isn’t that of a normal brother and sister, as the two share a dark past that connects them on another level entirely. What it is that happened to them is never explained, but that’s because it’s not what the movie is about. This is a story about a man who is trying to overcome a serious addiction that shapes his entire existence, while also trying to learn how to take care of someone else while the life he has grown accustomed to spirals out of control.
Shame garnered a lot of attention during its theatrical run due to its NC-17 rating, which it definitely earns. And while the film may be filled with sexual encounters, nudity, and situations that may make some feel uncomfortable, nothing that is shown or done ever feels gratuitous. Every moment that there is flesh on the screen, it’s telling a story, and most of the time it’s through Fassbender’s facial expressions and body language while the act is taking place. It’s all part of who Brandon is as a character; and while it’s definitely not something for all, it truly does help push to the forefront just how helpless Brandon feels, and just how raw, and honest the film is trying to be with its subject matter.
McQueen continues to show he’s a great talent behind the camera. There are multiple scenes that linger on a single shot much longer than many other directors would find comfortable. It’s not something audiences are used to, and it is something that can make people uneasy; however, it works here. It works incredibly well.
There’s one scene in particular where Sissy is singing in a nightclub, and Brandon goes there with his boss to see her perform. The song plays out in its entirety, with most of it focused simply on Sissy singing, with no other camera movement happening. It’s beautiful and touching, and it’s because of this decision to keep the camera mainly on her, that when we do see Brandon and his reaction to his sister, it’s a much more powerful moment than it would have been otherwise.
Shame is definitely not a film that will appeal to everyone, and it’s very likely after reading the above you know which category you fall into. One thing is for certain, that even after a second viewing, Shame is still one of the best films of last year, and very much worth seeking out.
The film looks fantastic in its Blu-ray transfer, really bringing out the wonderful visuals that help make the film feel so real. The darks are crisp, and the shadows look perfect, helping the gritty, raw nature come to the forefront when mixed against the lighter toned moments in the film. The audio is also spot-on, with a great mix at 5.1 DTS-Master Audio HD.
The special features are minimal, though the main one is definitely worth checking out for an intimate discussion with Michael Fassbender. Though you may not think you can get much more intimate with him after you watch the film!
Q&A with Michael Fassbender – This feature is 35 minutes in length, and is a Q&A that took place after a screening of the film. Fassbender sits at the front of the theater and goes through some in-depth questions about the film and his career, with some lighthearted jokes thrown in throughout. It’s a great companion piece after watching the heavy material he deals with in the film.
Interview with Michael Fassbender & Interview with Carey Mulligan — These two featuretttes are smaller in length, with Fassbender’s interview lasting just over three minutes, and Mulligan’s hitting the two-minute range. They’re just quickly pieced together interviews to gain a bit more perspective into what the actors thought about the characters they were portraying, the film, and so forth.
Shame is a wonderfully crafted, and expertly shot film dealing with subject matter that many in Hollywood would shy away from. The work done here by everyone involved is quite remarkable, and while it won’t be a film you watch time and time again, it’s definitely one that deserves a spot in your collection. Highly recommended.
An Alliance Films release Film4 and UK Film Council Present Shame. Directed by: Steve McQueen. Written by: Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan. Running time: 101 minutes. Rating: NC-17. Released on Blu-ray: April 17, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Carey Mulligan, Michael Fassbender, Shame, Steve McQueen