"You wanna get out of here? I can take you somewhere."
SHAME is the least sexy, sexiest film you're likely to see this year. Highlighted by a career best performance by Michael Fassbender (something to be said), the Steve McQueen directed tale follows Brandon (Fassbender) a thirty-something New Yorker, whose nameless computer job fronts an inescapable sexual addiction.
Every morning begins with Brandon masturbating in the shower; later at work, multiple visits to the office bathroom seem to break up the doldrums. Each day starts like the last, and those that follow. Brandon visits pornography sites, hires prostitutes, anything to satisfy his urges. An abnormal way of life for a good-looking, seemingly successful man.
After finishing up an undisclosed deal, Brandon and co-workers celebrate with a night on the town. His boss David (a terrifically seedy James Badge Dale) attempts to pick up an attractive blonde at the bar. His endeavor falls way short, allowing us the chance to see the considerable (and understated) talents Brandon has working for him. As David is put into a cab to sleep away his what-may-have-beens, the blonde drives by and offers Brandon a ride. He returns the favor underneath an overpass.
Everything is status quo, until the arrival of Brandon's sister Sissy (a remarkable and vulnerable Carey Mulligan). They are truly an odd couple. He racked by an indelible hunger, she a helpless loser, unable to hold down housing or a consistent job. Their relationship hints at a distressing past, with moments of near clarity, before McQueen pull back just enough to leave it ambiguous.
SHAME is rated NC-17 for "mature subject matter," meaning sex. Which is ridiculous. I've spoken long and wide on the absurdity of censorship in this country, and this instance is no different. Yes, there's nudity (male and female. Mostly from the two leads), and it's filled with sex, but McQueen deliberately holds the camera on Fassbender's face (almost uncomfortably so) throughout the deed. His visage constantly grimaces, contorting with the pain of a damned existence. His life is telling when the one relationship he forms with a co-worker, fails to get past the foreplay stage. Both are left empty in a rented room at the Standard Hotel in downtown Manhattan. She leaves humiliated; he calls a hooker.
NYC is the ideal locale for the film. In a metropolis of almost nine million, there's still a loneliness that's present at times. The city that never sleeps is also the one that's the most unforgiving. There's a great scene when Brandon reacts to overhearing Sissy sleep with David. He lingers in his living room a few moments too long, before stripping down and changing into running clothes. The camera then follows him through the streets, as Brandon traverses the pavement in one continuous take.
Needless to say, Fassbender and Mulligan absolutely nail their roles (not a euphemism). There's a ferocity in both their performances that's attributed not only to McQueen's sublime direction, but also the incredibly uninhibited way they approached their characters. These are two actors at the top of their game. Mulligan's entrancing rendition of Frank Sinatra's 'New York, New York' will speak for itself, but it's Fassbender who earns the highest praise. Along with this, he has been the best parts of JANE EYRE, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, FISH TANK, AND X-MEN: FIRST CLASS in the last few years. He's cemented himself as the best actor on the planet.
SHAME is simply one of the most impressive feats in cinema this year. Please don't let the NC-17 rating keep you away. It's a film that draws you in from its lustful opening scene to its last harrowing moments. Addiction has never been more intoxicatingly irresistible.