Some movies, regardless of the story or message it is trying to convey, are all about a single performance. That performance doesn’t always have to be the lead actor or main character. It could even be one performance in amongst an ensemble cast. That one performance can often overshadow the whole film, or actually make a film that would be average, an engrossing watch.
Shame isn’t an average film but it is a movie about a single performance. It’s supposed to be that way but Michael Fassbender manages to take this one step further. He isn’t just good in Shame, he is amazing! This isn’t unusual for Fassbender who seems to bring credibility and weight to any of the performances he takes on.
Examples include Prometheus and X-Men: First Class. These films aren’t exactly asking Fassbender to produce Oscar worthy performances but he brings an intensity and a respectability to the way he approaches the android David and a young Magneto. The second is a comic book film but by casting someone of Fassbender’s quality, you are seemingly forced to take the film seriously.
Nobody was going to take Shame lightly though. A film about sexual addiction and the effects it has on a man’s life could very well have been a premise for a gross-out comedy but with Steve McQueen at the helm and his go to actor Fassbender on lead character duty, it was always going to be looked at in deep and often gruesome detail.
This isn’t going to the lengths that McQueen and Fassbender did with their film about a Northern Irish prisoner’s hunger strike (Hunger), but it’s still graphic in its portrayal of sex, nudity and the issues surrounding addiction. It’s also a film that is much more complicated than just “addiction is bad.”
It’s very easy to go down the route of seeing how addiction destroys a person’s life but the character we meet at the beginning of the film isn’t someone who is struggling and self-destructing. Its only with the arrival of his sister, another brilliant performance from Carey Mulligan, that we see the affects addiction can have on a person, even if its something slightly less publicised like sex.
The films appeal and success can be boiled down to Fassbender though. As weighty and worthwhile as the message of the film is, its how he can portray addiction, struggle and frustration with very few words or real actions. He isn’t screaming off rooftops or desperately searching for a “fix” but instead he is staring intently at a woman on the tube or demonstrating subtle techniques for picking up woman in bars.
Subtle is key here, not just in the character but in how the addiction is portrayed, and the director, McQueen, does a fantastic job of this. The scene that many recognise is the one, long, single shot of Fassbender’s character running, as a way of dealing with his addiction. It’s this subtle, quiet way of conveying the character’s struggle that helps Fassbender’s performance stand-out and grab the audience.
The film does have slight flaws. It feels slightly too predictable towards the end and you can see where the story and conclusion is going, which felt like it was undermining the good work that had been done up to that point. Nevertheless, it takes nothing away from what is another Fassbender triumph.
Overall, Shame is another Fassbender success. He has shown he can be an android, a young Ian McKellen and now a sex addict. Its his subtle, subdued and slight way he plays the role and conveys the character’s addiction that makes this movie so good. Add Steve McQueen’s excellent direction and you have a film that is difficult to overlook.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)