Steve McQueen (not that one) and Michael Fassbender and follow up their highly-acclaimed film Hunger with this remarkable portrait of a sex addict in Shame. The Fass plays Brendan, an executive at a finance firm who seems to have it all: good looks, decent money and his pick of the ladies. But under his cool and calm exterior lies a man whose life is dominated by his crippling addiction to sex. We see him bring assorted women home from bars, soliciting prostitutes and filling his work computer with mounds and mounds of pornography. He exerts a herculean level of effort to conceal this fact from his co-workers. But when his lounge-singer sister (Carey Mulligan) rocks into town, Brendan’s precarious balancing act is completely thrown off, threatening the empty life he’s built for himself.
2011 was Fassbender’s big year and Shame may very well have been his best performance, deserving of all the plaudits he’s been getting since the film launched at the Venice Festival. He’s able to balance lust and anguish in a way that makes his condition seem real and unbearable. Carey Mulligan also shines as his vulnerable sister: one central scene finds her performing at an upmarket bar, singing a slow, aching rendition of New York, New York. As the camera hovers over her face in close up, we’re reminded again why Mulligan is considered one of the finest young actresses of her generation. Director McQueen also confirms his position as an enormously exciting talent. His sensibility towards small-scale visual storytelling marries beautifully with the sordid material: he’s able to squeeze more meaning out of a single glance than some directors with far greater experience.
Shame is not a movie I recommend you see with a date or with the family. There’s some full frontal nudity and a few explicit sex scenes that would make that experience very awkward. But if you’re willing to spend a quiet evening in the company of a man on the edge, I think you’ll find this a beautiful, compelling experience.