|Michael Fassbender, Shame, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011.|
The naturally ingrained instinct for survival and all of the unexamined pathologies which come with it are astutely examined in Steve McQueen's triumphant, deeply affecting sophomore feature, Shame. A dynamic character study shrouded in the common thread of self-loathing and fear which permeates the notion of American masculinity, McQueen's brave new work shatters perceptions of what is acceptable in American narrative filmmaking. Moored by the divine performance of Michael Fassbender, only on McQueen's visual and dream-like flights of fancy does the picture begin to soar away.
Fassbender's Brandon is a creature of ill comforts, a modern metropolitan man who is running from his past (aren't we all?) and attempting to fill the void with compulsive sex, to the degree that he almost shuts off when he is "performing". He is filled with rage and longing. He is a fantastic character, and as brought to life by the immensely gifted Fassbender, he is one of our new decade's most iconic movie characters. His troubled kid sister(Carey Mulligan at her best) shows up, bringing along all of her baggage. Their lives begin to unravel.
McQueen, a British performance artist, made his feature directing debut a few years ago with the extraordinary Hunger, also featuring Fassbender in an amazing performance. That film, with all its IRA and socio-political context, as well as its somnambulent silences and slow/still camera, announced the emergence of a major filmmaking talent. Shame proves he was no fluke. McQueen is here to stay, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
From Bobby Sands to Brandon, McQueen has demonstrated his inclination towards the lost, but also the resilient. His visual rhythms are intoxicating, clipping at our eyes as he weaves it all together. He is a visual artist of the most exquisite order. Sean Bobbitt's cinematography and Harry Escott's music score work in unison to bewitch us while making us think. Aside from an uneven third act, this powerhouse featuring two of the best performances of the year raises some of the most intriguing questions, without seeking an answer.