Saturday, December 10, 2011

SHAME (2011)

Written by Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan

Directed by Steve McQueen

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  December 5, 2011 7:45PM

"Shame" is the first Hollywood film to be released rated NC-17 since Ang Lee's espionage thriller, "Lust, Caution" in 2007. While I personally feel the rating is a bit of an overkill (and I want to commend Fox Searchlight for being willing to release the film with this rating) but the film certainly does display,explicitly and unflinchingly, all types of sexuality in this story about a man whose life slowly begins to unravel due to his constant, uncontrollable pursuit of sexual stimulation as a way to help fill an empty void within himself.

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon who, on the surface, appears to be your average, successful New Yorker; handsome, charming, stylish with a job in which he is well compensated but secretly he spends most of his waking moments trying to satisfy his all-consuming sexual urges. Brandon's daily routine consists of,while at work, spending hours scanning through Internet porn before sneaking off to the men's room to masturbate then later, (if he hasn't managed to find a sexual conquest on the streets) he arrives home where he spends the evening surfing more porn, and more masturbation before hiring a prostitute as a nightcap. Each of these moments are cold, mechanical and he doesn't seem to be enjoying much of it.

A disruption of his schedule occurs when Brandon's estranged sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up at his doorstep, with no place to go, after another disastrous relationship has ended. He reluctantly agrees to let her stay for a while as she promises not to get in his way. However,  that promise is short lived as Sissy is a complete slob, and always at the apartment which is interrupting his ability to fulfill his needs. Their relationship is complicated, full of resentment, emotional abuse and some sexual tension. In many ways, Sissy is just as damaged as her brother, although not nearly as extreme, as she clings desperately to men that are wrong or unavailable for her and lacks good judgement as she beds down Brandon's boss ( James Badge Dale) the same evening after Brandon invited him to hear her sing at a nightclub.

As an attempt at some sense of normalcy, Brandon decides to ask a co-worker ( Nicole Beharie) out on a date. They have an actual connection and share a  lovely evening together but later when they try to be intimate, Brandon finds that he is incapable of having a meaningful, sexual encounter with someone he actually has any feelings for and ends up later hiring a hooker to get him off.

As Brandon's private activities are revealed to people close to him, he becomes even more frustrated which in turn leads him to act out sexually in more reckless and dangerous ways.

"Shame" is a confident and accomplished work and, surprisingly, is only the second feature film by British writer/director, Steve McQueen following "Hunger", the 2008 film about IRA member, Bobby Sands and the 1981 Irish hunger strike, which won the Camera d'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival.  He began his career as an experimental artist and you can see that in his unconventional film making style where he enjoys extreme close-ups,  and long takes that don't cut away from the subject. He has crafted a darkly mesmerizing character study that simply presents this man's condition and offers no opinion or resolution. While the screenplay is spare and doesn't reveal much background on the siblings but we are given enough clues to see that they had a rough, difficult childhood.which left them both feeling unworthy of love with very low self-esteem.

What I am most impressed about is that "Shame" is refreshingly an adult film about an adult subject matter and sadly, these films are simply not being made anymore as Hollywood remains committed to cinematic ideas that will mostly appeal to only a sixteen-year old boys. Newsflash! - Grown folks still like to go to the movies and would like more options than transforming robots and flying men wearing capes.

This is Mr. Fassbender's fourth film appearance this year following his wide-ranging, terrific turns in "Jane Eyre", "X-Men: First Class" and David Cronenberg's recently released, "A Dangerous Method" but this is clearly his best. Fassbender also starred in "Hunger" and it's clear that he and McQueen have developed a working relationship built on complete faith and trust that allows the actor to be willing to travel wherever needed for the role. It is an amazing, committed performance in which he not only brilliantly exposes his character's internal anguish but he also bravely displays every part of his external being. This film has already won him several awards and I think Mr. Fassbender will have to make room on his mantle for a few more.

Ms Mulligan never fails to impress as the lost and needy sister. The young British actress not only convincingly plays an American but actually sings a complete rendition of  the usually inspiring anthem, "New York, New York" with her version unexpectedly slow and haunting.

I admit that I am still a little skeptical that sex addiction truly exists but nevertheless, "Shame" sheds some light to a dark secret that is finally revealed and delivers it in a powerfully honest, fascinating and non-judgemental way of how something that should be such a pleasurable experience, could possibly develop in to a crippling condition for some individuals.