Shame (2011) - McQueen
It's an odd choice for Steve McQueen after his breakthrough debut, Hunger, to do a film about a hotshot Manhattanite's hollow sex life. The premise is so very 1980s NY, circa Bright Lights, Big City - decadence, soullessness, cynicism. The only difference, besides the cyber age references, is how it is done. McQueen lets us know from the first frame, that he is not a normal filmmaker. As a visual artist, his visual approach is completely unique and refreshing.
Michael Fassbender again, teams up with McQueen and plays another physically demanding role (there are a lot of frontal nudity and sex scenes in this). Brandon (Fassbender) lives a high life in a posh midtown apartment, enjoys anonymous sex and pornography at home and at work. His magnetic good looks gets glances everywhere and he answers them back. His life style is sabotaged when his little sister Cici (Carey Mulligan), a lounge singer and an emotional wreck invites herself into his apartment unannounced. It gets complicated when Cici sleeps with his womanizing boss.
In a 5 minute long take, their backs to the camera and a black and white cartoon playing on TV in front of them, the siblings argue. The scene is just as compelling as the one long take in Hunger with Bobby Sands and the priest. Then there is an uncut restaurant scene where Brandon takes his lovely co-worker (Nicole Behari) on a date. Perhaps because of her down-to-earth quality, he confesses to her that his longest relationship with anyone was about 4 months. The following morning he takes her to the posh hotel suite overlooking the Chelsea Pier in order to have sex. He can't perform, all captured in agonizing 5 minute uncut take. The long takes require enormous amount of trust put on the actors and Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan oblige with perhaps the two of the greatest performances this year. What I like about Shame despite its rather conventional plot is it's deeply rooted in reality. Characters are very naturally drawn and believable. Mulligan's adorable as a hard edged, suicidal little Cici who might be Brandon's only salvation.
A reflective/introspective look at society's ills in the time of economic crisis and the world in turmoil is perhaps not very well timed. And Brandon's sexual escapades in the last act reach almost a comedic level. But Shame demonstrates a major talent stretching his cinematic muscles and I'm looking forward to McQueen's next project.