The specific buzz around Shame, and Michael Fassbender's performance, did not fill me with anticipation. Sometimes, when a performance is repeatedly called brave or groundbreaking, the distinction between the bravery or originality of the performance itself and the bravery of the actor for taking a role that requires a lot of nudity or "ugly" gets blurry. Male full frontal is a lot of worthwhile things…but it isn't per se acting.
Fassbender meets the bet. I could point to a couple of scenes where he goes too heavy, I guess, but it's more than made up for in a couple of other scenes where he gets a whole novella in with a lip angle. The rictus Brandon gives that girl in the dive bar, meant to seem confident but actually a gentle breeze away from sobbing; and especially when David (James Badge Dale, who has come such a long way from dingbat Chase on 24) is hitting on the three women and Brandon is off to the side, knowing he could pull all the tail in the 212 simply by virtue of contrasting with David's douchey full-court press, but also knowing that full eye contact with "normals" will reveal the unfixable within him.
This is the movie's intelligence, that it understands there are things that can't be fixed. What happened to Brandon and Sissy (Carey Mulligan, exactly on point with a character that could have come out a Courtney Love disaster)? We're never told. We're not even sure for a while who they are to each other; this is not a sibling relationship we recognize, or feel equipped to see. We imagine horrors. And then we see horrors, different ones, big and small, rendered with a simultaneous distance and tenderness: the tracing of Sissy's scars. The myriad grim discomforts of the sex scene with Marianne. The pier pilings that look like gravestones, and how well the DP conveys chill.
The script does feel kind of divorced from itself, emotionally — like an exercise — but if it's a conscious choice, it does reflect the content and Brandon's frigid pathological control. If it isn't, I don't think there's any other way to tell this story and keep it coherent anyway. The music is too pushy, though; I understand the instinct to gloss, or put us at a remove from, some of the material, but the director goes to it too often. "New York New York" is a big enough set piece that you can't tell us what to feel on the soundtrack elsewhere. Ditto the repeated heightened breathing. It's effective, but only to a point.
But the script and the direction get New York, what it's like to try to have a conversation at an overly solicitous restaurant with a semi-new waiter, the pauses in significance to talk about the bread, the awkward subway goodbye on a date, the occasional profound loneliness of having all these other people around. Whether trust will save or destroy.
It isn't perfect, but it's enormously affecting on a variety of planes, and it's not as hard to watch as you might think; it's not a pick-me-up for kids of all ages, obviously, but it's not that Solondz type of film where you're just trying to get to the other end of it without cringing yourself into an aneurysm and you have to lie down afterwards. Fassbender is brilliant, and that is a room with a view, is all I'm going to say about that.
Tags: 31 Days 31 Films Carey Mulligan douchery James Badge Dale Michael Fassbender movies Oscars 2012 Death Race peen art Shame Todd Solondz