Rather like Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender is not afraid to get his hands dirty for his art. There are few who would have the balls – literally – to play an ass and cock-bearing sex addict, especially during the prime of their career. But Michael is proving to be made of sterner stuff. Stuff that only comes along a couple of times a generation. Likewise, Steve McQueen is managing to prove himself as somewhat of a legend, despite only having released two films to date. Perhaps like Terence Malick, McQueen will be a man of gravity defying quality as opposed to quantity. This Brit – who won the Turner Prize in 1999 – has got the cranium and the creativity to rival Malick.
Fassbender has the acting ability (goes without saying) and the perfect physical appearance for the sex-addicted Brandon. A hard, slightly sinewy body devoid of fat. Rugged but well-kept features and those penetrating, Willem Dafo eyes. His body mirrors his character.
Steve McQueen’s long, long close ups on faces – few directors could get away with that without boring the hell out of audiences – means only the highest caliber of actor will do. I don’t think I have ever been able to read a person’s every thought and emotion before. But that is what I did as Brandon watches his sister singing a bone-chilling rendition of New York, New York.
One knows before watching the film that Carey Mulligan will do a faultless job. She’s saucy and ever so slightly slutty as Brandon’s kid sister Sissy – a side we have not yet seen of her – and demonstrates that she is in for a career without limits.
McQueen creates scenes so concentrated, detailed and powerful, it is as if we have read a book, not watched a series of flickering images. He wrings every fibre of truth out of A Picture Paints A Thousand Words. But he is also a master of the dialogue, every one of which is rich and succinct. No opportunity for actors to hide behind their lines. The conversations are so good you wish you had had them yourself.
He also gives us unadulterated bites of reality. So real you recognise them, and even remember them. The awkward-nervous start to a date: conversation on hiatus as Brandon and work-mate Alexa (played by the stunning Mari-Ange Ramirez) wait for the waiter to finish pouring out the wine. And then there is the foreplay and fumbling between Brandon and Alexa that comes with no background music to lighten things. Fassbender and Ramirez’s chemistry make the scene almost too real for comfort. McQueen turns the viewer into the voyeur.
Music is an essential ingredient that is used to drag you in emotionally that much more. Yet it is unobtrusive. Harry Escott’s classical score starts and finishes the film, with some funky Disco music and jazz in between, and a completely breath taking mix of pounding electronic music by Mark Loque played underneath Escott’s title score. What a soundtrack.
I had a post-mortem of the movie with one of my colleagues at work (I work in casting), someone who has years of experience in the film industry. Turns out I had failed to pick up on a HUGE elephant-in-the-room element of the storyline. What it was? Go see for yourselves!
Like an addict, I watched Shame alone and in secret, in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of the week. I’m glad I did. There are few people I would have been comfortable enough with watching those prolonged close-ups on bums and writhing bodies and Fassbender’s face, locked in effort and vice and… shame.