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When Shame premiered internationally at the TIFF last year, expectations were unapologetically high. Director Steve McQueen's debut, Hunger, was a visual masterpiece that was built around a career making performance by (a fairly unknown at that point) Michael Fassbender. Following its release, as news trickled out that they had paired together once again on a project that explored sex addiction, and co-stared up and comer Carey Mulligan, the anticipation of art house fans everywhere went sky high, but no matter how good the resulting picture is, there is still just a fleeting feeling of disappointment as the credits roll. Shame is a film all those who took part in should be very proud of, but despite its incredible lead performances, sexual proclivity, and stunning depiction of New York, it is still just a fairly straightforward character study stricken with addiction.
Fassbender bares all as Brandon, a successful business man with an unquenchable lust for sexual stimulation. His closet is filled with dirty magazines. His work computer is filled with viruses from downloaded porn. On the subway he prowls the cars with his stone cold eyes, and undeniable figure, and occasionally, it works. When his sister, Sissy (Mulligan), crashes his place and expects to stay for the foreseeable future, his routine is broken, and his mood does not lighten. There is obviously an underlying issue, but they can't, or won't, talk it out.
Brandon's sexual needs fail to carry over into relationships with any emotional exposure. With prostitutes, or one night stands, he has no issues, but after a dinner date with a woman he is attracted to, he can't get it up. This is one of the many reasons why he has never had a relationship last more than four months. He resists opening up, instead tucking all of those pent up emotions deep inside until he is reeling from the literal shame of it all.
Lasting filmmaking partnerships that wield such artistic elevation are rare occurrences. The obvious historical example of cinematic magic is Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, but McQueen and Fassbender currently seem to be playing these roles, with plans to continue for the foreseeable future. They challenge each other, raising the expectations as they go. McQueen's material would be daunting to most actors, but Fassbender is fearless here.
Like the acting lead, Fox was bold in deciding to release the uncut film with its NC-17 banner flying high. The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo release, though light on extras, possesses a top notch transfer. It's a dark picture bathed in cool blue tones, and the street lamp lit streets of New York City. Detail is extremely fine, even in low light. The swelling soundtrack is pumped through a warm, and alive DTS-HD 5.1 master track that occasionally pushes through the surrounds. Voices, especially Mulligan's solo, sound superb. For extras, there are only five brief promo-type featurettes that have short interviews with Fassbender and McQueen about themes within the movie and their filmmaking partnership. These are Focus on Michael Fassbender, Director Steve McQueen, The Story of Shame, A Shared Vision, and Fox Movie Channel presents: In Character with Michael Fassbender. There is also a theatrical trailer for the film, as well as ones for The Descendants, and Margaret. The discs come packaged in a standard Blu-ray case with a glossy slipcover.
Though not as strong as Hunger, McQueen and Fassbender's follow-up is a mesmerizing piece of filmmaking that delves into the life of an average man fighting off inner demons by deflecting with sex. This film needs to be seen for its technical merits alone if an explicit character study of sex addiction doesn't sound like your thing. Watching this makes me excited to see what the future holds for this brilliant dynamic duo.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: April 17, 2012