Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shame

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie, James Badge Dale
Director: Steve McQueen
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Rating: NC-17


‘Tis the season of Michael Fassbender. It seems this smoldering German-born actor came out of nowhere with roles in “Jane Eyre,” “X-Men: First Class” and “A Dangerous Method,” just in 2011, but his portrayal of a sex addict in “Shame” has to be the most buzzed-about role in Hollywood (not to mention his multiple full frontals.) With an NC-17 rating, I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to see this with my mother, however, I was so engrossed in the film that I didn’t have time to register how awkward it was sitting next to her. She compared “Shame” to another NC-17 film you’ve probably heard of: “Last Tango in Paris,” rated X upon its release (I feel weird admitting it’s on my to-see list, but Brando is a god…)

The first ten minutes of “Shame” don’t include dialogue, but we’re immediately hooked. Fassbender plays Brandon - a gorgeous, wealthy, young professional who considers NYC his sexual playground. He does a terrific job of bouncing between alluring and creepy in a matter of moments. Just making eye contact with a woman on the subway is enough to get her interested, until his stare becomes predatory, and she rushes off the train. He considers luring in women a game, but when no one wants to play, he has no problem purchasing his fun or dirtying up his hard drive.

As soon as we’re introduced to Brandon’s sister Sissy (played by the fabulous Carey Mulligan), we see where many of his problems stem from. She greets him with a full frontal for an inappropriate amount of time, and later sleeps with his boss in the very next room. Against his will, Brandon agrees to let her stay with him, yet she soon becomes a suffocating burden in his systematized life. Mulligan nails this performance. Though the audience doesn’t want to admit it, we feel sorry for Brandon. It’s Fassbender’s brilliance that allows him to make this character accessible enough that we can actually empathize with him.

We discover that a traumatic childhood is partially to blame when Sissy tells Brandon, “we’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.” As the tension reaches a high point, Brandon attempts to kick his sister out, while cartoons play on the television in the background. The contrast between their threatening tones and the animated TV voices is disturbing.

It’s apparent that Brandon’s addiction forced him to isolate himself from the world, and he seems perfectly fine with it. However, he’s aware that his addiction is destroying him, and in an attempt to change his ways, he takes a co-worker (a flawless Nicole Beharie) out to dinner in a captivating scene - a ten-minute non-stop shot. When he realizes that he actually respects her, it frustrates him that he can’t use her to fuel his addiction. He decides his only “cure” is to go cold turkey, and he tosses out his disgusting laptop and collection of DVDs. This completely backfires and results in a binge – a really disturbing 15 minutes to watch.

The ending doesn’t leave you in a good place; in fact it left me with a lump in my throat and a fear of men on the subway. It’s a real shame that neither Fassbender nor Mulligan were nominated for Oscars for their work, as they were emotionally raw. Obviously this is not a movie you’ll want to watch with your family (trust me) or a first date (duh), but you’ll definitely be intrigued after watching the trailer.


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