, 03 Feb 2012
A woman sits on the subway, minding her own business, when her eyes meet with the stranger sitting opposite. He is handsome, sexy, and he stares at her, smiling. Shyly, she smiles back. He looks at her her eyes, her lips, her bare thighs, back at her eyes still, staring. The smile slowly turns into a grimace. Still staring. She becomes uncomfortable, tries to ignore him. Still staring. The train begins to stop. Still staring. The doors open. Still staring. The woman gets up and quickly leaves the train. The man follows. She paces up the stairs and he paces after, fighting through the crowds of people to get to her. Somehow, she manages to get away. He pivots on the spot, searching desperately for her in the sea of faces. Gone. He looks up to the ceiling, defeated. She runs as fast as she can. She has survived.
Sound like a scene lifted from a horror movie? Thats exactly what Shame is. A horror movie.
Id been wanting to see Shame for bloody ages now, but something always got in the way. But I finally got my chance this afternoon. I knew a few things already that this was about Michael Fassbender playing a sex addict, and Carey Mulligan playing his sister. And that it was very intense, and quite depressing. But it was one other rumour that I wished was true. That Shame was a fantastic film. And, hey, the rumour was true!
When I watch a movie that I love, I tend to get all gushy. Im guilty of it, I know, just read my review of The Artist. Im gonna try not to get gushy, but its hard, because I loved it so much. My favourite movies are the ones that really challenge you as a viewer, and thats what this film does. Its not even the disturbing nature of some of the scenes, which are challenging, of course. Its director Steve McQueens attempt to get us to feel sorry for this man, this sex-obsessed man who should be ridiculed, that fascinated me. How do you get sympathy from a man like that? Simple. You bring in the sister.
But lets leave the sister for a minute, and talk about Michael Fassbender, who plays lead Brandon. I dont think Im exaggerating when I say he is one of the best actors working today. Hes amazing. We see whole emotions pass through his face with the flicker of an eyelid, the slight tremble of his lips, as subtly as that. And we are drawn to him; we dont like what he does, but we understand, in some weird twisted way. We think we should hate him; we want to help him instead. And there is one moment, when Brandon seems to receive genuine romantic affection, and he cant cope. And you shake your head. That is a testament to the script, the direction and the performance. Even at his lowest, were there with him.
But one crucial element of the film helps the sex addict get some sympathy from us: that sister. Cissy, played by Carey Mulligan, arrives in the film and disrupts her brothers private world. The intimacy of the relationship is deliberately ambiguous, but these two siblings love each other, and its both beautiful and heartbreaking. I think Fassbender won a few awards for this film but, really, Mulligan is the stronger performer here. You talk about magnetism: she oozes it. Cissy is just as broken up as Brandon is. Their relationship is the only real one either character has, and that need for each other is expertly portrayed by both actors, but Mulligan especially.
But like I say, this is a horror movie. Its Jekyll turning into Hyde. Its a man not wanting to embrace the evil inside him, but not strong enough to fight it. And as soon as he stops fighting, he becomes a beast. The sex scenes are not sexy, they are mechanical and painful. And things continue to get painful, until Brandon decides to take a stand. Whether the beast is eventually tamed, Ill let you watch and judge for yourself. I will say that the climax is perhaps not as climactic as I would have liked, that final crescendo just wasnt high enough, but I can see why McQueen chose to do it that way. Not what Id done, but Im not a successful Hollywood director (yet).
Okay, yes, I know, I gushed. Im sorry. But this is a good film, with two brilliant performances, that keeps you thinking about it for a while. You also see a lot of Fassbenders firetruck, and a little bit of Mulligans ladygarden. If that doesnt make you want to go, nothing will!
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