Michael Fassbender stars in Steve McQueen‘s NC-17 rated drama Shame, a story about a man and his addiction to sex. It’s not the easiest film to sit through, but it’s definitely worth it in the end. Shame is Michael Fassbender‘s most enduring performance yet and he couldn’t have done it without Steve McQueen‘s raw and revealing directing. Shame is relentless and cold, but it’s a commanding film that shows you that not everyone wants to see a mindless action flick; some people are willing to emotionally invest themselves into flawed, but real characters, with dark pasts and not so bright futures.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a well-off man with an addiction to sex. By well-off I mean he’s in good shape, he has a good job and lives in a good apartment. He’s social and has no problem getting with the ladies, but everything he does is for sex. Sex isn’t pleasurable to him; it’s a brief moment of escapism. Having sex feeds the addiction and gives him happiness for a very short time. He has a routine and as long as he follows it strictly, nothing will happen. He won’t get better, but he won’t get worse.
That all changes when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up uninvited and asks to stay with him. Things start to spin out of control for Brandon the second Sissy comes into the picture. His addiction is at a boiling point and she brings out the weakness in him while he does the same for her. There’s something dark buried deep down inside of Brandon and he doesn’t want to let it out. He keeps it locked up tight, while Sissy screams and shouts, letting out all of her anger.
The two are complete opposites, while at the same time almost exactly the same. One is imploding while the other is exploding, but they’re both good people from a bad past. Watching the two interact is like mixing two highly combustible chemicals. It’s wild and out of control, but that’s part of why Shame is such a spectacle.
Michael Fassbender is explosive as the sex addict Brandon. He’s slick and confident on the outside and severely dysfunctional and insecure on the inside. Only Fassbender could give such a disgusting character so many redeemable traits. You want to hate or disown Brandon for his nasty addiction, but Fassbender makes you care for his well-being and he makes you hope that Brandon gets better.
Carey Mulligan‘s Sissy isn’t as transforming, but Mulligan does help bring out the best in Fassbender while holding her own. Sissy is damaged goods and more often than not an irritating, irresponsible individual, but Mulligan makes her feel like someone you still want to watch, despite her nagging. There’s just something about Sissy that is innocent and misguided that Mulligan pulls off so effectively.
Shame just wouldn’t work without Steve McQueen behind the lens. His trademark pacing and tone is a key factor in Shame‘s success. He never holds a shot too long, but he’s not afraid to let you sit in the filth and really soak up some of the more uncomfortable stuff. McQueen finds a delicate balance and he keeps it consistent from start to finish. Shame is only his second full-length film and in my mind it’s better than Hunger. It shows his progression as a filmmaker and more importantly it shows that he’s one of the best dramatic directors working in the field today.
The 1080p transfer is remarkably sharp. Color tends to fall on the cooler side, with a lot of dark blacks and blues, but that doesn’t keep the transfer from looking sturdy and clean. There’s grain throughout the whole film, but it’s an artistic choice that helps the film’s overall style and look. Skin tones are natural. The film looks exactly like it should and it reflects the overall mood just perfectly.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a compelling track, full of depth and detail. There are lots of sound effects in this film and the track helps spread out the moaning and grunting evenly. It’s not going to assault your eardrums or anything, but there’s an attention to detail that’s present on this track and it’s refreshingly mixed to satisfy your hearing needs.
Shame comes to Blu-Ray with a surprisingly light batch of special features. It’s an odd contrast to such a dense film, but we work with what we get. Here’s the full list:
- Focus on Michael Fassbender (HD): Director Steve McQueen discusses his relationship with Michael Fassbender and how they managed to make Fassbender’s character completely open for the audience. Fassbender also discusses some of the film’s focus points.
- Director Steve McQueen (HD): A brief look at how McQueen sets the tone for the film. He also discusses the central theme of addiction and overcoming that painful feeling. Fassbender chimes in with a few comments on working with McQueen on Hunger.
- The Story of Shame (HD): Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen and Carey Mulligan discuss the film’s story and its characters. Each one brings their own idea of what each character means to them and their ultimate goal by the end of the film. It’s great seeing both the cast and crew on such an exact same level in terms of ideas and story progression.
- A Shared Vision (HD): McQueen and Fassbender shed some light on their relationship and how it formed and continued to grow since Hunger. They both discuss the character of Brandon and how each of them prepared to take him to the next level.
- Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Michael Fassbender (SD): Michael Fassbender again discusses the character of Brandon and how important it was for him to prepare for the role. He also goes over the main relationship of the film and how a back-story wasn’t needed, but was strongly implied. I like his explanation behind the reasoning of not including the back-story within the film, it’s true and rewarding.
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
Shame is a very tough film to recommend. If you’re into heavy dramas that play at the local art-house theater than you might want to check out Shame. It’s very similar to McQueen’s previous film Hunger, but at the same time I found it too be slightly better in terms of structuring and lasting impact. I’m not sure if you’d want to purchase the film, because it really isn’t something that you can watch every other day.
If you did like the movie then I’d suggest it because it replicates the theatrical experience without a flaw and the audio track is surprisingly mixed with attention to all of the channels. The only complaint I’d like to mention is the lack of detailed special features. Every single feature is short and often-times reuses footage from the last feature. I would have really loved a lengthy featurette or an informative audio track, but they’re nowhere to be found.
The package does come with a DVD and digital copy, which makes it feel more complete and worthy of a purchase. In the end it all depends on your willingness to fully indulge on such a touchy and unappetizing subject.
Shame is an incredibly tough film to stomach, but if you're up to it you'll find one of the most painfully honest films of 2011 and actor Michael Fassbender's strongest performance yet.