Shame ★★★★½

There was a lot of uproar about this film upon release and it really proved to be the most controversial picture of 2011 (at least in my mind). Director Steve McQueen teams up with Michael Fassbender, for the second time, to take us down the dark alleys and hidden crevices of sex addiction. Love it or hate it, this is a life shattering addiction just like drugs or gambling and this is a brutally honest look into that harsh reality. As one might expect, Shame is often difficult to watch and is cringe-worthy at times. However, I knew I didn't walk into Michael Keaton's Clean and Sober, this is a completely different breed of filming that explores the hidden side of human weakness and pleasure seeking. Perhaps too much reality and too much disclosure is what turns some potential viewers away from this story and I feel that is understandable. Not everyone is interested in this kind of material and do not care about rare performances and artistic direction dealing with such taboo matters. Nevertheless, McQueen expertly shot this unflinching portrait with fearless precision and he has now been granted the much deserved attention in the industry as a brilliant pioneer.

Fassbender plays the main character, Brandon. He is handsome, successful, and living the American dream in New York City. That is on the surface, what lies beneath is a completely different person. We can see that Brandon lives his day to day much like a heroin addict, always getting a fix and immediately working out how to get the next one. This includes him having sex with many woman (some he pays and some he simply picks up) but he is constantly watching porn, even at his office. We see his lifestyle begin to affect his work and sanity. He is alone and cannot or will not emotionally connect with anyone, not even family. This is proven when his sister, Sissy, practically moves in with him. Convincingly played by Carey Mulligan, she is down on her luck and causing her brother much distress with her very presence. As his world begins to crumble, we see that his problem is much more powerful and dangerous than we suspected. Shame is rated NC-17 for a reason and one of those reasons is not so much to give viewers a peep show or glorify nudity. Not even close, it doesn't play out like that. The main reason and warnings are because the core of this story exposes such raw human instincts run riot that it will punish the mind if it is not expecting a study of this nature.

The colors exhibited through precise cinematography, only enhance a haunting performance by Fassbender. The actor relentlessly sells his soul for pleasure and submerges himself in the pain. Written by McQueen and Abi Morgan, Shame shows more strength and more honesty in divulging itself than any other 2011 film. This drama introduces us to new depths of sex addiction in an unapologetic manner that we can either identify with on some level or if not, it will make us appreciate the fact we that can't. Either way, if we can get past some shocking scenes and some perverted motives by the actor, we see a pitiful man who is scared and alone. My focus was on this isolation factor and I got emotionally involved not only with the addict, but his sister as well. Mulligan and Fassbender share a scene where he verbally assaults her to tears and it made me physically weak. I was angry at Fassbender at first but then I realized how important that scene was because it illustrated just how detached he was, and also recognized just how effective both actors were. Along with her moments of glory singing in the night club, Mulligan showed a different shade of herself and increased my already significant respect for her. Both performances are extraordinary and even offer some ambiguity regarding their past together that is never fully disclosed but very intriguing. Why Fassbender was not nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for this role I do not know. Shame is obviously not for everyone, yet anyone who dares to see it will surely be impressed by this glowing director and the actor with enough courage to lead us through a unique cinematic experience.