Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shame - A Review

My second entry in less than a week, inspired by a truly astonishing film!

Have been anticipating this for months, but when the time came to actually sit down and watch it, there was a tiny bit of apprehension about being let down. Tends to be the case when my expectations are set too high.

Thankfully, no such thing occurred here. Shame kept me riveted from beginning to end, and earns a perfect 10/10 from this finicky movie buff!

If you're not familiar with the subject matter, the less I reveal, the better. However, I will advise you NOT to be distracted by the "sex addition" tag, because although it is the dominant theme, director Steve McQueen's deft manipulation ensures that the sleaze never overwhelms.

Details follow beyond this point, so spoiler alert!

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The central character, Brandon Sullivan, is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, an actor whom I became a huge fan of only a year ago, following his broody turn in Jane Eyre ( during which I made the connection between him and Lt. Archie Hicox from Inglourious Basterds ). Since then, I've watched him play a comic book villain ( X-Men: First Class ), an evil zombie ( Blood Creek ), a Roman soldier ( Centurion ), an adulterer ( Fish Tank ), an IRA fanatic ( Hunger ), a tragic hero ( Eden Lake ) and a legendary psychiatrist ( A Dangerous Method ).

Little wonder he sits just below Kevin Spacey on my personal Top 10 Actors list! I am in awe of his talent and versatility. Plus it certainly helps that he's drop-dead gorgeous. :)

As Brandon, he once again blows me away with a multi-layered performance, combining animal sexuality with vulnerability to potent effect. Of course, the script ( by Abi Morgan and McQueen ) deserves major kudos for creating a character who is both deplorable and sympathetic, but undeniably memorable.

Viewers will no doubt feel like guilty voyeurs as McQueen takes us through intensely private moments in Brandon's life - outwardly normal and successful, inwardly in constant turmoil and progressively spiraling out of control.

We bear witness to his frequent trysts with random women which fail to satisfy his voracious sexual appetite. Pay attention to every scene - there're numerous revelations to pick up on, illustrating the gross discrepancy between Brandon's reckless abandon and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. For instance, he listens to Glenn Gould ( quiet, rather dull stuff ) but has no qualms about hiring prostitutes, engaging in threesomes, even venturing into a gay bar.
In another sequence, he vigorously cleans a toilet seat before urinating. And I wonder, this guy doesn't give a crap about sharing bodily fluids with strangers, and he wipes a toilet seat he doesn't even have direct contact with?!

Another fascinating segment involves a dinner date Brandon arranges with a saucy female colleague who's obviously attracted to him. They banter about their past and personal views on relationships. I don't have the exact quotes on hand right now, but remember laughing when Brandon said his longest relationship lasted only 4 months! He also gives his perspective on couples who have nothing to say to each other, which I can vouch for 100%. :)

Special mention goes to Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, who plays Brandon's younger sibling, Sissy. It's difficult to describe their bond in a way that will do it justice, but again, the script provides excellent material, and the actors deliver their scenes flawlessly.

I was momentarily stunned by one sequence which left Mulligan completely exposed for a few uncomfortable minutes, but I need to accept the fact that she's a grown woman now, not giggly Kitty from Pride & Prejudice or virtuous Jenny from An Education.
Her on-screen chemistry with Fassbender is positively scorching. There're a few sexual undertones - sufficient to make my mum use the word "incestuous" - but mostly it's a totally believable dynamic, alternating between deep affection and outright disgust, that makes this acting partnership so exciting.

I definitely harbour hope for another Fassbender-Mulligan collaboration in the near future, preferably in a sweeping Victorian-era romance!

Next, the subway train scene, where Brandon locks eyes with a pretty redhead and attempts to follow her when she alights.
Words alone can't possibly convey the fiery eroticism so expertly portrayed in this 3-minute segment. There's zero dialogue, every subtle gesture carries heavy subtext, and when Brandon stands behind the flustered woman as the train comes to a stop, their hands almost touching on the subway pole, I dare you to take a breath.

The encounter is so transient, yet it reverberates throughout the film. And when it finally comes full circle, the tension slices through like a hatchet.

Last but not least, the movie title proper. When the end credits roll, I guarantee you'll find yourself pondering its various definitions, and how they apply to the different characters and situations.
While it's obvious that "shame" alludes to Brandon's self-loathing, that alone comes in many forms: he knows he needs to kick the sex addiction, but can't; his sickness is discovered by Sissy, which is mortifying; he contemplates using an infatuated colleague to act out his twisted fantasy, but stops before it's too late and hates himself for being the instigator.

The other prime example includes the redhead episode. But I'll leave it to you to figure it out, because it is absolutely stunning.

The McQueen-Fassbender partnership struck gold with Hunger in 2008, and they will work together again on Twelve Years A Slave, set in the 1800s and co-starring Brad Pitt! Am looking forward to that! :)

The Artist may have swept the Oscars, but Shame is, in my opinion, far better. Michael Fassbender should've been named Best Actor for his fearless performance, and Steve McQueen at least nominated for Best Director.

Thank you both for one of the best film experiences of my life! :)

Next entry: A review of The Avengers, which I will be seeing next week. :D

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