By Ray Bennett
TORONTO – If Turner Award-winning artist turned film director Steve McQueen focussed less on Michael Fassbender’s naked willy and more on character and plot then his second feature “Shame” might be much more interesting.
The title is misleading since Fassbender’s character, Brandon, displays a shameless indifference to work and family on top of his relentless appetite for joyless sexual encounters in the filmmaker’s attempt to explore sex addiction in New York.
Brandon has a cushy office job that is never explained although his married but horny boss David (James Badge Dale) does not seem bothered by his lack of endeavour nor the fact that Brandon’s desk computer is jammed with pornography.
McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan show Brandon as a man whose every waking moment is spent in search of sex whether it’s alone, in one-night stands, with prostitutes, or via the internet. Clearly, the man is incapable of sexual satisfaction but the film makes no attempt to find out why.
There is one insightful scene on a subway train when Brandon and a beautiful young woman flirt intriguingly and the woman wisely takes pleasure only in the moment.
As he did in McQueen’s first film, “Hunger”, Fassbender performs beyond the call of duty in many scenes in which he is naked and panting, often with vigorous but uninvolved women.
The one time Brandon has what would be called a normal liaison with a well-adjusted woman (Nicole Beharie), it does not go well. That he would then seek release in the backroom of a sleazy gay bar suggests that it’s really the squalor and filth that he enjoys but there’s no way to tell.
Carey Mulligan also gives of herself as Brandon’s addled and needy sister Sissy and her scenes evoke sympathy more for the actress than the character. She’s a would-be singer whose performance of “New York, New York’ is dire and while McQueen seeks to shock, it’s odd that he would obey the absurd movie convention in which a cabaret performer does one number and then joins a table in the audience.
Although it was shot there, New York has no real presence in the film and several street scenes in which Brandon is presumably conflicted simply go nowhere. Only in Fassbender’s raffish features are there signs of the anguish that the film apparently seeks to explore. Despite the film’s flaws, the actor shows once again that he will become a major movie actor.
Reviewed at 2011 Toronto International Film Festival; Opens UK: Jan. 13, Momentum Pictures; Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie; Director: Steve McQueen; Screenwriters: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan; Producers: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman; Executive producers: Tessa Ross, Tim Haslam, Peter Hampden; Director of photography: Sean Bobbitt; Production designer: Judy Becker; Music: Harry Escott; Costume designer: David C. Robinson; Editor: Joe Walker; Production: See-Saw Films, Film 4, UK Film Council, Lipsync Productions, Hanway Films; UK rating 18; 99 minutes.