out of Five
Running time: 99
Director Steve McQueen reteams with Hunger star Michael Fassbender for this beautifully shot, brilliantly acted and intelligently scripted drama that's by turns explicit, thought-provoking and powerfully moving.
What's it all about?
Directed by Steve McQueen, Shame stars a frequently full-frontal Fassbender as Brandon, a New York office worker with a compulsive sex addiction, whose soul-less but efficient day-to-day existence involves an endless cycle of prostitutes, random pick-ups, explicit pay-per-view webcam encounters and online pornography. However, when his troubled lounge singer sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay, Brandon finds his carefully controlled routine disrupted in more ways than one.
Michael Fassbender delivers a mesmerising central performance as Brandon, with his compulsive, though not yet self-destructive behaviour hinting at a deeply buried past that he's clearly not ready to deal with; his interactions with Mulligan's character are particularly telling in that regard, though it's strongly to the script's credit that the details of their presumably shared background are never made explicit, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps for themselves.
Mulligan is equally good as Sissy, managing to convey a huge amount about her character with comparatively little screen-time or dialogue. There's also terrific support from Nicole Beharie as Brandon's attractive co-worker Marianne, whose date with Brandon forms the film's most heart-breaking sequence as the hope of an actual human connection slowly turns sour when Brandon realises he's incapable of having sex with someone he actually cares about.
The film is beautifully shot throughout, with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt making strong use of a series of New York locations that aren't overly familiar from a thousand other New York movies. Similarly, McQueen directs with a strongly visual style and captures some arresting and memorable images, such as a shot (from behind) of a disheartened Brandon staring out of a darkened hotel window as a boat slowly crosses the river below.
McQueen also orchestrates a number of stand out scenes, including a brilliant pair of book-ending moments on the New York metro and a breathtakingly emotional sequence in which Mulligan's character sings New York, New York in tight close-up.
Stylishly directed and superbly written, Shame is a powerful, emotionally complex drama with a typically terrific central performance from Michael Fassbender. Highly recommended.