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Blu-ray Review: SHAME

Joshua Brunsting

April 17th, 2012

We all have our addictions. Be it a cinephile’s addiction to the art of film, or a smoker and his or her love of nicotine.  Some are light and wholly serviceable, while some can be as crippling as a serious injury, altering lives both directly and indirectly.  That is one of the handful of topics discussed during the two hour runtime of the second feature from director Steve McQueen, SHAME.

McQueen’s follow-up to his harrowing and brilliantly brutal debut feature, HUNGER, SHAME re-teams the filmmaker with his muse, Michael Fassbender, and tells the story of Brandon, a man addicted to sex.  Be it with another person or a few people, or simply by himself with a computer screen, Brandon is at the point in his life where he schedules his life around his carnal addiction.

When his troubled sister, played by Carey Mulligan, shows up at his door, his whole life changes. From there we become privy to, as put perfectly on the recently released Blu-ray’s supplements, two people who are so socially disconnected that they are either imploding or fully exploding, lashing out at the world while looking for connection.

And the ride we go on may be one of the most effective, if not flawed, trips that a viewer has gone on in quite some time.

When discussing SHAME, the conversation must almost always start with the lead performance.  Fassbender, an actor whose career has shot straight to the moon over the past few years, is career-defining here.  Playing a character that aesthetically and on the page should be nothing more than a one-note caricature, he bleeds truth and heart into Brandon. It’s simply one of the best lead male performances in years.

By the film’s final frame, Brandon has said much with very few words, emotions channeled primarily through his face. Be it a coy little glance at a woman or the change of expression whilst  listening to his sister’s lounge performance one night, Fassbender gives a master’s class in physicality. His characterization is so true, so flesh and bone, that it’s startling.

Fassbender’s bunk buddy, McQueen, isn’t a shabby director either. Taking a Cronenbergian narrative seemingly ripped from his mind for a CRASH sequel, McQueen proves that while he may not have an extensive filmmaking career to draw upon, his work as a visual artist is so assured and confident that it makes its way into the frames. With a lyrically flowing camera, the film never feels stagnant or cold and allows each moment a chance to breath; in some cases for almost too long.  Take Mulligan’s song in the lounge:  the camera feels almost too in love with this moment, giving the viewer an extensive look her brother and his boss's emotional response to it.  It’s not a bad sequence, just one that proves that while McQueen may have a deft had when it comes to drama, it may occasionally overindulge.

Beloved young thespian Mulligan adds a much needed dash of energy to the film, entering like a tornado in more ways than one.  The pair of her and Fassbender offer a great emotional and intellectual dichotomy, showing how two different people could have such polar opposite experiences with the same emotional disconnection. While Brandon, could not be more introspective and less thrilled to spend a single moment with a person, Sissy could not want a relationship more and lashes out at anyone and everyone looking for some sort of emotional connection. The film may be “about” addiction to sex, but this is truly what the film is about; humans and our experience dealing with interconnection.

As far as a Blu-ray release goes, this one is oddly hit or miss. Audio and visually, this release is killer.  The transfer is stellar, the audio tuned up perfectly.  However, the supplements seem a bit short; while  giving a look into Fassbender, McQueen, their relationship and the writing of the film, the collective supplemental  runtime clocks in at no more than fifteen minutes and makes it a rather unrewarding release to re-visit.  A commentary or true "making of" featurette is sorely missing here. Even some exploration focused on the controversial rating of the film would have been welcomed.  Paired with something like an episode of the great four-part IFC series "Indie Sex", SHAME could be a really dense release. Alone, it’s a run-of-the-mill Blu-ray for one of 2011’s greatest films.

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