An unrelenting examination of a fascinating but bleak character, Shame is a dramatical, dense and remarkable film that will astound and disturb in equal measure. While Steve McQueen's sombre production is hugely admirable, there is no one more deserving of praise here than Michael Fassbender. The Irishman is simply mesmerising in a blistering lead performance.
Fassbender is successful single New Yorker, Brandon. Superficially living the perfect existence, he's actually a sex addict on a long, downward spiral. When his emotionally needy, equally damaged sister Cissy (Mulligan) turns up at his place and asks if she can stay, Brandon is initially put out, but soon shows cracks of empathy. After his sibling sleeps with his boss, however, Brandon is infuriated, unable to deal with his anger.
Shame is undoubtedly an uncomfortable watch. Opening with a repetitive waist-high shot of a naked Fassbender (good for him, by the way), it slowly draws you into Brandon's life but never attempts to explain why he is the way he is. When Cissy turns up, we learn a little about their background; they moved to New York from Ireland when he was a teenager, and Cissy has attempted suicide before. These are two people who had something horrific happen to them while they were younger, and they have dealt with it in opposing ways - him pushing intimacy away, her craving it.
As you might expect from the director of Hunger, there are a lot of single takes here. McQueen seems determined to make his film feel as real as possible, and he achieves that natural feel brilliantly; there is an intense but creatively loose feel to the majority of scenes. Subsequently, there's very little going on plot-wise. Instead, the focus is firmly on the inherently complex Brandon, someone you almost root for despite his sickeningly degenerate behaviour.Yet there's hope within him, and that hope is indicated with beautiful subtlety by Fassbender.
The Dingle actor gives a frighteningly committed performance. While the word "brave" is thrown around far too much in modern cinema, this truly is a role that took utter balls to commit to. Working with McQueen obviously agrees with Fassbender and on this evidence, there's no reason not to continue their remarkable working relationship. Mulligan deserves mention, too, as she quietly but consistently delivers strong work.
As uncompromising as they come, Shame will not appeal to anything resembling a broad audience - so make sure that you know what you're getting yourself in for when you purchase a ticket. Those who do, however, will never be less than engrossed.
Story by Mike Sheridan | 10:19 | Tuesday 10th April 2012 | DVD review
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