Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shame - Movie Review

Steve McQueen is quickly becoming one of the hottest directors anywhere with a style of film making that is redefining the cinematic experience. McQueen's debut feature, 'Hunger', shocked audiences with a brutally honest portrayal of imprisoned protesters during a hunger strike and Michael Fassbender's performance in the movie was universally praised. With 'Shame', the duo look to continue their success with an intimate look in to the life of a man dealing with personal demons as he takes in his troubled sister and her own set of issues.

Brandon Sullivan has been leading a life dominated on one side by a successful career and on the other by a sexual addiction and a mentality that prevents him from maintaining any type of meaningful relationship. Spending as much time as he can fulfilling his personal desires, Brandon is able to maintain a sense of balance, at least up until Sissy (played brilliantly by the beautiful Carey Mulligan), his estranged sister, steps back in to his life.

Sissy is an aspiring singer who is also dealing with her own personal demons and emotional issues which have kept her from having the type of success or comforts that her brother has been able to enjoy. Depending on others for any type of support, she has found herself relying on Brandon for a place to live and as an emotional lifeline she hopes will keep her from a total breakdown.

The relationship between the two is tested as Sissy's need for affection and support conflicts with Brandon's need for privacy and solitude. As the story progresses there are vague mentions of a shared past that has had a searing impact on their lives and is the key to their emotional troubles yet leaves the two with an unbreakable bond.

Sissy is hoping the two can deal with their past and move forward whereas Brandon only wants to hide from it inside of the shell he has created. Eventually, all of this will come to a head as Brandon's professional life begins to be affected and Sissy continues to push the limits of their relationship.

One of the hallmarks of Steve McQueen's film making style is how he takes the audience about as deep and close in to the character as possible with visuals that tell as much of the story as the dialog while giving the actors the freedom to immerse themselves in to their roles.

My favorite detail that some might not pick up on is his use of sustained shots as opposed to constant changes of angle and perspective. This is a challenge for his cast in how they, at times, need to deliver five or even ten minutes of a performance in one shot. The beauty of this is how natural the story becomes and increases the emotional impact and audience's involvement in those moments.

Fassbender is on the fast track to stardom and his two collaborations with McQueen are shining examples of why he is becoming one of Hollywood's most bankable and respected stars. His performance here is riveting and you see every emotion clearly conveyed from the delivery of his lines to more subtle and perfectly silent moments like one where he is sitting in a subway train slowly seducing a woman with just a look in his eyes.

Where this movie falls short is how, even though you feel for the characters and what they are going through, you are never really given a reason to fully invest in who they are or why we should be cheering for their redemption. It takes a fair amount of the movie to pass before you even realize what you are looking for in this story and, by that time, you have seen enough of how superficial and selfish the siblings can be, you may not really want to root for them anyway.

Of course, this movie isn't meant to be warm and fuzzy by any means as these characters have major flaws and this is an analysis of who they are during a pivotal time in their lives. 'Shame' is rated NC-17 and has earned every bit of that label with shocking images and in your face moments that will leave you exhausted from experiencing them.

This is a movie to watch with a couple good friends so that you can sit back and talk about what you just saw as there is an awful lot to digest and discuss and that is what's so good about McQueen's movies. You can see that he is on his way to making some real masterpieces although, as great as this movie is, he doesn't reach those heights just yet.

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