By: Mark Di Stefano
Rating: 8 out of 10
From the very first shot of Shame, the tone is established with Michael Fassbender lying naked in his bed motionless: unpredictable and daring. If left in the hands of someone else the film could have taken a turn for the worse due to its content. However at the helm of Steve McQueen, the NC-17 rated film draws a thin line between brilliant, cinematic storytelling and an adult film. In a strange way, it should be that way.
Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a New York successful businessman who has a strong sex addiction behind closed doors. However when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves in with him for a couple of days, his ability to control his sexual urges spiral out of control.
The role of Brandon by the plot description can be easily interpreted as a horrible sex offender or predator of some sorts, however Fassbender adds humanity to the character, which in part makes it more frightening and real. Fassbender knocks it out of the park with a powerful performance. The character on paper is already three-dimensional, but Fassbender adds a sort of normalcy to the character’s sexual deviance that makes him human.
Whereas the soul of the movie lies in Fassbender’s performance, Carey Mulligan gives the most memorable performance of her career to date. From the moment she steps on the screen there is a fearless presence and it’s unlike anything she has done before (and her rendition of “New York, New York” steals the show).
The score for the film done by Harry Escott is beautiful as it is haunting. It’s one of few films today that uses music as a tool. The main theme entitled “Brandon” accurately represents its main character, with repetitions that represents Brandon’s repetitive sexual lifestyle. While the themes fade in and out playing a ticking sound plays faintly in the background. This is a brilliant technique because it stands for Brandon’s inability to control himself.
Director and co-writer Steve McQueen (who directed Fassbender in 2008’s Hunger) is what Shame needed, a director who puts visuals and performance first. The scenes that are sexual in nature are equally steamy as it is visually stunning, and this transcends throughout the entire film. He uses long takes of performances to bring you into this world, and it’s a world captured beautifully on screen regardless of the subject matter.
During the first ten minutes of Shame the film already lives up to its NC-17 rating. The sexual content in this film is very raw and unfiltered, the kind that rivals with that of Midnight Cowboy, another film that had an NC-17 rating (however NC-17 was labeled as X when the film was originally released).
To some moviegoers this might not be their cup of tea which is understandable, and at times it can be cringing to look at, but when given a chance Shame is a film that has a realness and beauty to it. Most films wouldn’t dare go for the NC-17 rating as for major theater chains don’t carry films with that rating, so it’s a sign of good faith that Fox Searchlight had the courage to proudly label their film with that rating, which led to a visual, powerful film with great performances. McQueen uses all the elements of a film to show viewers that this isn’t a “sex” film, but a memorable film with a riveting story.