moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks

Steve McQueen's follow up to Hunger, his astonishing account of prison strikes in Northern Ireland is no less arresting. The director's brazen, forceful gaze has crossed the Atlantic to rest on the well ordered, middle class life of Brandon (Michael Fassbender) whose carefully structured existence is shattered when sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives with more baggage than Louis Vuitton.

Brandon's unconcealed irritation stems from reconciling the unwelcome intrusion and a fierce reluctance to do good by family. He has reason: Sissy has priors and an alarming way of cluttering space physically, emotionally and metaphorically. It's in stark contrast to Brandon's constrained, buttoned-down existence with room only for porn and hookers. Lots of them.

McQueen is not a shy director and Shame is not shy in exploring Brandon's obsession: one that has come at a heavy price. We're exposed to the full reality of his needs, from bedroom to bathroom to hotel room. Nor does the director shy from Sissy's demons and the tragedy borne from the siblings inability to communicate. This is brutal story telling compounded by the director's cold, stark realisation of the narrative. Bleak cityscapes are put to great use.

Fassbender returns yet another scorching performance for McQueen, recalling an attractively repellent Patrick Bateman on a sex binge. Carey Mulligan is no less eye-catching as Sissy's fevered behaviour eventually forces her brother into a dark and dangerous corner. An aspirant singer, her cover of New York, New York is heart-breaking.

Then, somewhere between intoxicating sex clubs and Brandon's suffocating apartment, Shame gets lost and dissolves into a story in search of conclusion. Tragedy strikes, seemingly without profound narrative consequence, and all that has passed begins to feel as thin and pointless as Brandon's endless encounters. Once the magnificence has faded, we're left with the tawdry sight of an addict and his addiction having learnt little about either.

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks


The title of this film sets the tone for the story, which is at times utterly depressing and claustrophobic. You are drawn into the world of dysfunctional siblings, Brandon (Michael Fassbender, who delivered a blistering, multi-award winning performance in his previous collaboration with Steve McQueen, Hunger) and his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who are polar opposites. Brandon is incapable of forming a close relationship with anyone; he is addicted to sex, be it via the internet, paying prostitutes or the occasional brief encounter. Sissy, on the other hand, is desperately needy, constantly seeking companionship and needing to be hugged, to feel wanted, as a way of validating her existence.

Set in a very cool, impersonal Manhattan, captured brilliantly by cinematographer Sean Bobbit, the film takes the viewer on a journey with Brandon as he appears to unravel before our eyes. His sister’s arrival on his doorstep (he reluctantly allows her to stay with him “for a few days”), adds fuel to his already chaotic world. On the surface he has a decent apartment, a pretty good job and a social life; however, there always seems to be something sinister lurking in his background. The fact that McQueen doesn’t spell it out for us adds to the air of mystery.

Sissy is a cabaret singer who gives a splendid performance of a pared down ‘New York, New York’ during the film. Most directors would have presented an edited version of such a long song, classic or not, but not McQueen - as with many of his takes, he is not afraid to leave the camera rolling and the effect is simply stunning. This is Carey Mulligan’s best role to date and that’s pretty impressive when you reflect on some of her previous work including An Education, Drive and Never Let Me Go.

The performances of both Fassbender and Mulligan are pitch perfect and credit must also go to James Badge Gale as David, Brandon’s boss, who plays an executive with a predilection for hanging out in bars trying to score with women while his family sits waiting for him to come home. He is another dysfunctional character swimming in the same (cess?) pool. One of the most ‘normal’ people in the film is Marianne, who goes on a date with Brandon and is thus exposed to his foibles. Nicole Beharie gives a very watchable performance in this role, playing someone who, like us, is just trying to figure this guy out.

Shame is a scorching re-union between Fassbender and McQueen, covering similar territory to recent Aussie title Burning Man. McQueen strips Fassbender to the core, both physically and emotionally - the result is a performance that leaves you reeling. It is going to be interesting to see if the Academy Awards acknowledge what has to be one of THE performances of the year. I doubt that this will happen as the sexual content of this film, which is extremely confronting, may mean it doesn’t get a look-in. Go with the British response on this one. As Empire magazine wrote, it is indeed “the most provocative and compelling film of the year”. It got me thinking, what would this script have been like if Rainer Werner Fassbinder had directed US actor Steve McQueen in the role of Brandon?

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks


Michael Fassbender
Carey Mulligan

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen
Abi Morgan


R18 / 99 minutes

February 9, 2012
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Stacks Image 126