VOD film review: Shame
James R | On 14, Mar 2017
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
It would be easy for audiences to get distracted by the carnal knowledge of Michael Fassbender on offer in Shame, but the film is much more than that. Following on from Hunger, Steve McQueen’s harrowing second film (co-written with Abi Morgan) is just as bold, equally uncomfortable, and perhaps even more mesmerising.
We follow Brandon (Fassbender) through his daily routine of impersonal office cubicles, minimalist apartments and meaningless pick-ups in bars – all punctuated by frequent trips to the bathroom. It’s an empty life, which he fills with sex. Even at his office, he can’t concentrate on work for the sake of downloading naughty images. “Your hard drive is filthy,” says his married boss. “Do you think it was your intern?”
Then, Brandon’s sister Sissy (Mulligan) comes to stay. Another lost loner in need of affection, she thinks she’s helping him, as she brings people back to his one-bedroom flat. Of course, she only makes things worse.
McQueen captures this sparse, over-sexualised existence with a detached eye, coolly observing his superb cast. “We’re not bad people – we just come from a bad place,” rationalises Sissy. Whether either of them believes it is another matter.
At the centre of the film, Fassbender is immense, holding nothing back in his portrait of addiction. The same goes for Mulligan too, and McQueen’s camera loves them for it. This is closer to mainstream cinema than the artistic Hunger, but the stronger narrative doesn’t affect the stillness of McQueen’s composition. Stark silhouettes cut out from the New York skyline hold your attention, as McQueen once again demonstrates his ability to craft lingering moments of cinema.
A long tracking shot through the streets as Brandon runs off his frustration is brilliant, while one spellbinding scene sees Sissy singing a bluesy rendition of New York, New York. The camera remains static on her face through each painful verse – then, a quiet cut to Fassbender, as a tear sneaks down his face. It’s a devastating moment in a film about addiction and self-harm that trades almost solely in sex – and yet looks right through it.