Not only was Shame one of my most anticipated films of last year, it was number six on our top ten movies of 2011. Now the film is ready for its wide release, and it couldn’t come at a better time as most people are curious to see what Michael Fassbender has in his golf bag. Even without Clooney’s Golden Globe remarks, Shame lives up to all its praise, scoring hordes of nominations from critics groups and prestigious awards shows alike. Even with all this hype, the one thing you need to remember is that Shame is so much more than the assets of its actors.
The film sheds light on the darker truths on the life of a sex addict and not the kind of sex addict that must make tearful apologizes beneath the shade of a Nike endorsement, but a true addict. The film follows Brandon Sullivan as he struggles to live his emotionless lifestyle, as he is constantly bombarded with feelings that he can’t convey. This becomes ever so apparent when his kid sister drops in and is looking for a place to stay. The relationship between Brandon and his sister Sissy walks the line of caring and depraved drunkenly, until they are both pushed to the edge. Shame is a film about addiction where sex just happens to be the stereotype.
Fledgling writer/director Steve McQueen (Hunger) tells the story of Brandon Sullivan’s addiction with no remorse, letting every moment of his perversity show through the camera. Teaming up once again with Hunger cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, the two allow the film to breathe in its own emotion and bask in a heated sterility. I have to applaud McQueen’s ability to let the story unfold on its own and let his actors dive as deep as their characters would take them. Such patience is rarely found in younger directors, but when you combine it with the self-willing ideas of something new you end up with a bold piece like Shame.
It’s this bold storytelling that allows actors Michael Fassbender (XMEN: First Class) and Carey Mulligan (An Education) to deliver some of the most honest performances of their careers. With Mulligan’s performance as the emotionally codependent Sissy Sullivan, she was able to break new barriers and leave me forgetting the purity of her character in An Education. Like with Never Let Me Go we are treated with a much more adult Mulligan and with the addition of last year’s Drive she has shown us that the idea that she will win an Oscar is more now a fact than a dream. Even with all my gushing praise, Mulligan only makes up one half of Shame. The full brunt of the story falls on the shoulders of Michael Fassbender.
Fassbender embodies Brandon Sullivan in such a way that you forget that he has ever acted before, you can see that his entire career had been waiting for a moment like this, and he may have been holding back. He is able to show Brandon’s regret and infatuation to the choices he is making without the use of a long-winded dialog, and though his performance is inspiring he seems at ease in the character. To say that Fassbender makes Shame the film it is, is an understatement to his performance. The times of Fishtank and purple capes are over, and now we can finally see what he has to offer as an actor (come on ladies, focus). Though I don’t think his performance will shake the cobwebs off the rusted Oscar ballot box, the fact is that it should and that may say more than winning the award.
When I think of awards season it’s films like Shame that have me waiting in anticipation, it’s the time when risks can be taken and rules broken. The standard film school bullet points find no meaning, imagination is king, and this is why you should see Shame. The film is bold and ripe with emotion, the kind of emotion that really shakes you and stays in your thoughts for days. So, when you walk into the multiplex and out of the cold be sure that Shame is your weekend draw and you won’t leave unsatisfied.
By Ryan Davis