Staff Review/ Shame

Cornerhouse LiveWire Young Film Critic Jay Crosbie reviews Shame

Oscar buzz is upon us now and there’s no escaping that. No matter which way you turn, people are beginning to predict which films are going to walk away with the most coveted awards. However, arguably no film has created a bigger buzz this year than Shame, Steve McQueen’s new venture.

After Hunger left critics and audiences alike in its artistic wave, many weighty expectations where placed on McQueen’s shoulders and to say Shame conquers those expectations would be a lie, because in reality Shame doesn’t just conquer them, it manages to transcend all possible expectations and become a film only few auteurs out there are capable of having in their filmography; the solid ruby in their crown.

Shame follows Brandon (Michael Fassbender) a young, wealthy business man with a dark side. He’s a sex addict. In the day he conforms to the yuppie stereotype and in the evening he prowls the city like a predator looking for sexual encounters in the same way a drug addict hunts for their next fix. Brandon’s routine is however disrupted by his beautiful, yet uncontrollable sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Soon the disruption to his order begins to destroy Brandon and tensions between Brandon and his loved ones rise to an unsettling level as he fails to balance his work life and his dark desires.

In my review of Take Shelter, I mentioned how it was an adequate film, improved by powerhouse performances. In that regard Shame is a mesmerizing film raised through the stratosphere by two monolithic, yet solemn performances. Fassbender blows the Best Actor competition out of the water. This is an actor who has become at one with the script; you can’t picture Shame without Fassbender. What makes the performance so good is the command and dedication to the uncompromising script. This film isn’t an easy view and it most certainly isn’t an easy film to act but Fassbender never lets that obstacle wither his momentum, going from strength to strength with each frame. Whilst the script could be said to be sparse (in terms of the amount of words said), it’s never scattered or empty. Each word is dripped in such poignancy and spoken with such sincerity, it’s almost like Fassbender is exorcising himself of sexual addiction; every subtle facial expression conveys more words than you would ever need. Fassbender portrays a man whose ultimate implosion, whilst never easy to watch, will make you lose your breath.

It is easy to admire Fassbender’s performance but one must also admire McQueen’s execution of the film as a whole. Shame conquers sexual addiction as its main theme and McQueen never shys away from that even when it gets too unbearable to watch. We see every single sex scene in detail, no flinching away. For sex it’s surprisingly ugly. There’s no discussion about if the film deserved that NC-17 rating or not, but this shouldn’t mean the film is portrayed in a different way, in fact McQueen should be praised. He could have glazed over the sex, making it more like that seen in your traditional romantic comedy, but the film wouldn’t be as gripping as it is. Watching the sex in Shame is like watching a heroin addict fill a needle and pump the poison into his veins. Directors with a true message are few and far between but it seems we’ve found one in the form of McQueen.

Shame‘s avant garde subject matter and pitch perfect performances entitle it to some serious award nods. However, will it recieve the award it so rightly deserves? Probably not. It’s a decisive film and will probably split audiences down the middle – some praising the explict content and some damning it, which could end up hindering its chance. However one thing can be said: McQueen never makes Brandon’s misery exciting. This is a man dedicated to portraying the gritty realism, not the glossy idea. So few directors are ready to go the whole hog when they get hold of a genuinely enthralling, original idea and it’s so refreshing to see a man dedicated to making it the way it should be made, regardless of how people will react to it. For me personally, I felt Shame is the Yin to Hunger‘s Yang.