Review of Shame at Toronto International Film Festival.
SHAME rises on the strength of Michael Fassbender’s powerful performance.
New Yorker Brandon (Michael Fassbender) locks eyes with an attractive woman sitting across from him on the subway on the way to work. It’s not until he gets off the wrong stop and desperately follows her up the station steps that you realize something is wrong. Brandon, portrayed with deep pathos by Michael Fassbender in the drama Shame, comes off as successful in his job (just get a load of his Manhattan apartment) but also extremely lonely and emotionally unsatisfied. He’s both confident around women and helpless to his sexual addiction.
Characters as dark and complex as Brandon seldom appear on-screen.
Thanks to Fassbender’s incredible performance — working for a second time with director Steve McQueen — Shame quickly stands out as one of the year’s most gripping adult dramas.
Shame is just the second film by London-born artist McQueen after Hunger, about the final weeks of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in
1981 and starring Fassbender as Sands, but already his movies feel essential.
Like his acclaimed short art films, Shame is controlled storytelling, formal in cinematic technique and almost classical in its portrayal of human tragedy.
It’s what one expects from a Turner Prize winner and recipient of the Camera d'Or prize at Cannes for Hunger.
Yet Shame shows McQueen stepping away from the controlled, experimental terrain of his art installation films and into the territory movie melodrama.
McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan tell the sad story of Brandon and his needy younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) in bold, melodramatic strokes and the film’s emotional intensity makes Brandon and his equally troubled sister come off as approachable, understandable and somewhat grounded.
Shame is not as stark and subtle as MecQueen’s 2008 drama Hunger. It’s pulpy at times as Brandon’s extreme behavior results in bursts of sexual activity more pathetic than stimulating.
Michael Fassbender, winner of a best actor award at the Venice Film Festival for Shame, builds a compelling sense of sympathy for Brandon even as his sexual cravings overwhelm his life. It’s to Fassbender’s credit that Brandon is far more complex than a handsome predator.
Carey Mulligan, so precious in An Education and Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, is haunting as Sissy, Brandon’s troubled, nightclub singer sister who arrives at his doorstep with her own relationship issues.
Mulligan shows a different side of her acting talents in Shame and it’s to her credit that she’s every bit as courageous as Fassbender.
In fact, Mulligan claims the film’s standout scene, a soulful rendition of New York, New York at a downtown club.
Still, the confidence that runs throughout the movie belongs to McQueen who shows a firm hand when it comes to what he wants in a movie.
Shame is cinematic through and through from Brandon’s modern apartment to the sterile offices where he works. Composer Harry Escott compliments the frequently shocking story with beautiful music.
Cameraman Sean Bobbitt uses light and shadow to powerful effect, creating a portrayal of New York City perfectly matched with Brandon’s troubled soul.
I like how McQueen is certain of his artistic decisions, even when it comes to a dramatic explanation for Brandon’s behavior. It’s also interesting how both of his feature films focus on the human body.
After acquiring Shame in the first few days of the Toronto Film Festival, Fox Searchlight plans an end-of-the-year release with the hope of repeating the success of last year’s ballet thriller Black Swan.
Shame is a far more challenging drama but it will introduce McQueen to more sizable audiences and make him a filmmaker who's every new project generates excitement.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge, Nicole Beharie
Screenwriter: Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan
Director: Steve McQueen
Producers: See-Saw Films, Film4, U.K. Film Council Running Time: 99 min.
Release Date: Late 2011