By Matthew Calder , Special to the Chronicle
“Shame,” an emotionally gripping film directed by Steve McQueen, stars the German-born actor Michael Fassbender who became known to audiences for his role as Magneto in “X-Men: First Class,” and the Academy-Award nominated English actress Carey Mulligan, known for her role in “An Education.”
Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, an upper-class man living in New York City with an intense sexual addiction that absorbs his life. We are introduced to a fully nude Brandon, appearing in a montage of his sexual excursions. From frequent masturbation to pornographic movies, to online chat and even prostitutes, Brandon is completely helpless to his addiction. His private life becomes disrupted when his younger sister Sissy, played by Mulligan, shows up to stay with him for a while. Unable to indulge in his sexual desires as openly as he is used to because of his sister’s presence, Brandon begins to slowly realize how dependent he is on sex, and how much of an affect it has on both his social life and others lives.
Fassbender delivers a performance that will catapult his career to new heights. His smoldering eyes, with a tint of grief due to the fact that he is not in control of his addiction, add to a realistic and emotionally draining performance that latches on to you from the minute the film starts to the closing credits. Mulligan shines as Fassbender’s sister, portraying her character simultaneously as self-indulgently fun, while effortlessly maintaining her tenderness. Both are certain front-runners for the Academy Awards coming up soon.
The film truly deserves its NC-17 rating; however, the extremely graphic sex and nudity is important to the plot of the movie. There was not one moment where the nudity felt unnatural or extraneous.
McQueen certainly proves his directorial chops. He portrays a sensitive subject that many are not comfortable discussing, and puts it all out in the open in a powerful and beautiful cinematic experience. The subtle use of comedy in the film was a great decision on behalf of McQueen. The film reflects McQueen’s decision to study art as opposed to film in college, as the cinematography and editing is stunning.
“Shame” is a courageous character study that has the intent of making the audience pity Brandon in his struggle as opposed to judging him, and it succeeds admirably. Top contender for the Oscars this year, and a remarkably strong film all-around.