If Steve McQueen's follow-up to his 2008 controversial breakout hit, Hunger was nothing more than the first 10 minutes of Shame, it'd probably be considered a masterpiece in the context of short films. The way it chops and changes from Michael Fassbender's tragically perverted home life of masturbation and sleeping with prostitutes to him sitting there on a subway gazing at this beautiful, almost unattainable, woman set to this heartbreakingly tragic score by Harry Escott.
It's atmospheric, it's moody, it's ambiguous while still being genuinely interesting all the while it's beautifully told through the tired eyes of Fassbender himself. A truly mesmerising introduction to a film which...unfortunately just doesn't quite hit the mark for the rest of its duration.
Shame tells the tale of the elusive New York marketing exec Brandon (Michael Fassbender) who suffers from an almost suffocating addiction to sex in all its forms, from porn and escorts to one night stands and random masturbation sessions in the office toilets. Not really the stuff of 'first dates is it? It's okay, you can all relax, it's all apparently called 'art' these days, and not unadulterated filth.
Fassbender himself was unsurprisingly terrific, as this really fractured soul who can be this charming, polite, reserved person one moment to this fairly intense, frustrated, sexual predator the next. To a degree his manner wasn't a million miles removed from how Mad Men's Don Draper probably would've turned out in a modern day setting. I think the main problem however with him and the general film is it becomes too ambiguous for its own good, which will turn off some of the audience. Me personally, I quite enjoyed it even if it was a shameless example of style over substance, especially in it's frankly bonkers crescendo towards the end of the film.
Starring opposite Fassbender was the truly brilliant Carey Mulligan as Brandon's selfish, childish, sister Sissy. From the opening moments of them meeting e on screen, you can hazard a guess there's something more to their relationship that's never fully resolved or even really explained. To Mulligan's credit I think this is without doubt her most mature role to date (much more involved than she was in last year's outstanding Drive), and probably deserves the plaudits for her performance as much as Fassebender. I still question the necessity of her (non spoiler) stand out moment slowly singing New York, New York in an uptown bar, but hey it was still beautifully performed, so much so in fact I'm listening to it on my iTunes as I type.
I do believe Steve McQueen did achieve exactly what he perhaps set out to do with Shame. Which was to kill the very idea of sex being at all romantic in cinema. Not sure whether that's cynical of me or perhaps delusional to think otherwise but I fail to see how watching such a film could leave anyone feeling anything other than sorrowful and feeling utterly joyless. That said it's still gorgeous on the eye at times, and will leave your heart racing with its truly relentless final scenes. A strong drink could be recommended after...
I want to tell you this is 'the most hard-hitting, controversial, bravest' film you'll see in the cinema in years and you must see it right now. However, being left so bothered by the film's hammy, overacted conclusion and with how vile the characters were I kept thinking to myself, why on earth would one recommend to anyone to see this? Perhaps it's because I've got strong moral values I just can't, or perhaps deep down for the 21st century male it hits closer to home than one would ever care to admit. If the film is one thing it's certainly sobering and maybe there lies the true shame in it all...
Shame is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from January 13th, 2011.