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Review: Shame is American Psycho where sex replaces the stabbing

PUBLISHED: 13:27 12 January 2012

Carey Mulligan as Sissy in Shame

Carey Mulligan as Sissy in Shame

Archant

Shame. (18) Directed by Steve McQueen. Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie. 100 mins ***

In Steve McQueen’s first film – the faeces, maggots, lice and brutality-strewn Bobby Sands drama Hunger – there were plenty of occasions when you could barely keep your eyes on the screen. There’s no need to flinch during his second feature, Shame, the tale of a New York yuppie sex addict, but neither is there quite as much a reward for keeping your eyes fixed on it.

What made Hunger special was that it was largely an anti-drama, as much art installation as motion picture. Shame retains the same austere visual style – long takes, often static camera, simple uncluttered images – but this time it comes with a script courtesy of Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Sex Traffic) and a conventional narrative.

The cold, empty man lives in a cold, empty, white apartment with just enough designer goods to complement his minimalist lifestyle. Because he is dissatisfied, he has lots of meaningless sex with prostitutes and late-night pick-ups before heading home to bash one out with his laptop. Then his sister arrives, makes a mess of his apartment and spoils his lifestyle because she wants him to share an emotional, familial link with her.

Throwback

He’s a high-flier in some contemporary fatuous profession – all glass walled offices and nailed presentations – but the film’s vision of New York has an 80s yuppie tint – they dance to Blondie’s Rapture in the nightclubs. I think what we have here is a surreptitious adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho with shagging replacing stabbing.

It must also be said that McQueen’s film career has been helped immensely by always having Fassbender to train his camera on. He was the film actor of 2011 and is mesmerising here. He can do more with a simple reaction shot than most other performers can with a soliloquy. He’s a dynamite performer, can take on whatever is thrown him and yet does it with a remarkable lack of ostentation. Compare this with the overwrought pig’s ear Christian Bale made of Patrick Bateman.

Anybody else giving one of the performances of the year, walking around with his tackle out or his face shoved into a lady’s backside would make sure you knew you were watching something Brave and Raw. He makes it seem like no big deal. On screen, Fassbender comes across as one of the few people around who doesn’t think Michael Fassbender is a big deal.

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