Star rating – 10/10
I haven’t seen a film worthy of my top rating for a while now – but this masterpiece in both direction and acting is an absolute gem. It is shocking, unsettling, and so sad at times as to be nearly unbearable; and it stayed with me long after the credits had rolled.
Director Steve McQueen really impressed me with his debut feature ‘Hunger’ about the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. And he teams up again with the fantastic Michael Fassbender to tell the story, or at least part of it, of a sex addict. Brandon is superficially very successful, with a classy minimalist Manhattan apartment and an unspecified executive job to match. But he cannot stand relationships or intimacy of any kind, except the sex act itself, which he craves at any time and place, and in any way he can possibly get it. And his lonely lifestyle is disrupted, to his considerable annoyance, when his clingy and dependent little sister Sissy, comes to crash at his place when she has nowhere else to turn.
Fassbender gives a stand out performance as Brandon, playing super smooth cool guy and empty, frightened addict in equally perfect measure. Carey Mulligan yet again shows her considerable acting credentials as Sissy, who is desperate for the affection that her brother just cannot give. Their American accents are as near as damn it perfect, and that’s official – anyway it is according to my American cousin who saw the film with me. And Mulligan shows off her beautiful, fragile singing voice, giving what must be the saddest ever rendition of ‘New York, New York’ ever.
The direction is superb, with the very welcome inclusion of what is fast becoming McQueen’s trademark long uncut shot, in this film of Brandon running and running across the city, trying to get away from the unpleasant scene of his married boss and his sister getting a bit too intimate in his own bed.
This is not a film about sex, although there is undeniably lots of sex in it. It is a film about addiction, and how that warps the everyday life of the addict. It is surprising that Brandon actually manages to hold down a job, with every meeting consisting of him staring at the backside of a woman around the office; and with his computer being taken away to be cleaned up as his hard drive is so full of porn.
The film is unutterably heartbreaking, as he messes up the only chance of a real relationship that comes his way, crippled by his emotional blockages. And his relationship with his sister is all wrong too. McQueen does not go in for back story in a big way, so all we know is that they had an unhappy childhood. And for that matter their future is not really mapped out very clearly either. As opposed to the futures of McQueen, Mulligan and Fassbender who, whilst possibly being a bit too racy in ‘Shame’ to triumph at the Oscars, will undoubtedly shine bright for many a long year. This is a simply superb film – watch and be stunned into silence by its brilliance and intensity.