Before I begin to review the film, let’s get the elephant (might as well be, it’s so big) in the room out of the way right from the off. Yes, this is the now renowned film where Michael Fassbender, Magneto himself, gets his weenus out for all to see. And yes, it’s pretty damn impressive. You can't miss it truth be told. But it is a great metaphor for just how brave both he and the makers of Shame are in taking a taboo subject, and turning it into something real. It truly is like nothing you have seen before.
For all the accolades The Artist, and in particular Jean Dujardin won for their work on that film, it begs the question as to why Shame was so awfully overlooked at the more prestigious awards ceremonies back at the start of the year. Obviously, the themes and story of the movie I’m sure were a deterrent for it, with a lot of the Academy in particular I’m sure balking at the very idea of entertaining a film such as this one, let alone watching it in its entirety. But to baulk at the subject matter and cast it aside because of any preconceived notions is to miss the point entirely.
Director Steve McQueen, who made the superb Hunger with Fassbender back in 2008, has made a devastatingly brilliant film here, as good as anything that has gone before it in the last year. Shot with elegance and style, his picture-perfect shots of The City That Never Sleeps with all its colour and hustle-bustle go perfectly with the intimate, voyeuristic shots of the more racy scenes. But while they are explicit, they never play as pornographic or seedy, and play more as intimate drama than titillation.
But this is Fassbender’s show, and my goodness does he shine. In what on paper could be preserved as a distant, volatile character, with all his flaws and addictions, he draws you in so tight as Brandon, that you cannot help but be swept up in his journey. He plays essentially three characters: the addict, struggling with his afflictions; the façade, the man who walks up and down his office halls, trying desperately to cling to his only sense of friendship with his boss, while trying desperately to hide his other life; and the brother, who arguably is the most volatile of all. It is a stellar performance, as powerful and raw as the film itself, but with an underlying heart that Brandon himself is struggling to find.
Mulligan too is terrific as Sissy, the volatile sibling, who unlike her brother, wears her heart and emotions on her sleeve. She craves human contact, but while Brandon struggles to connect outside of his unemotional encounters, Sissy yearns for love from both Brandon and her hinted-at lover, and despite her best intentions, her passion tends to get the better of her. Her scenes with Fassbender have an almost violent edge to them, with each moment they spend together only exacerbating each of their desires, but also their troubled past together, which only adds to the tension between the two.
Shame is arguably the best film of the year. Controversial it may well be to some, it is one of the year's most rewarding films. The perfect combination of brilliant writing, beautiful direction and two of the finest performances of the year, Shame is a film that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
Just as the film is brilliant, so is the presentation of this Blu-ray from the always reliable Momentum. every aspect of the film is perfectly rendered on the small screen, with McQueen's direction losing none of its beauty and power. New York looks spectacular throughout the film thanks to its transfer, presented here in 2.35:1 aspect. Even the more risqué scenes are great to look at, with the colour palette balance just right, from the shady greys of Brandon's apartment, to the colour and life of the city itself. The audio too is great, with the 5.1 DTS-HD MA track doing great justice to the film. From the actors' voices to the sounds of the city, Mulligan's superb rendition of "New York, New York" and the superb soundtrack (Glenn Gould's score the standout), the film looks and sounds impeccable.
Extras wise, there is a lengthy Q&A with Fassbender from January, short interviews with Fassbender and Mulligan, and the film's trailer. Decent enough, but this film screams out for a director and stars' commentary.