Shame

British director Steve McQueen's Shame is wonderful in the conventional sense -- intensely artful directing and powerful performances -- but it is unconventionally wonderful, as well, because it expertly mixes static resignation and frantic discomfiture. It's a movie about people not being comfortable in their own skins, even as they bare that skin to the world. The lead characters, Brandon Sullivan (a mesmerizing Michael Fassbender) and his sister Sissy (an equally terrific Carrie Mulligan), are driven by some unseen and unspoken past events into lustful rages that make them toxic to others, each other and to themselves. Brandon is a sex addict who works in an office with computers and lots of glass (it doesn't really matter what he does; he's just brilliant at it) and he spends a great deal of time scrolling the Internet for porn and stalking the streets of New York for willing sex partners. Sissy is a needy and clingy possible nymphomaniac just arrived in the Big Apple from L.A., where she was involved with a man who, apparently, she can't live with or without. McQueen films Mulligan in extreme close up singing the entirely of New York, New York in a lethargic meter that, like so much else in this film, will test the viewer's patience but will reward that patience when something will click and the device will become apparent. It's voyeurism. McQueen films interactions between characters so deliberately and at such great length (think John Cassavetes if he'd stripped his casts naked) that what at first is enticing eventually becomes distasteful. An early scene between Brandon and an unnamed female passenger on the subway transpires without a word being uttered, just glances between the two. The woman is at first flattered by his attention, then she's allured, but as Sullivan's gaze is unwavering, she loses her seductive pout and feels menaced by him. It's a brilliant scene in a film loaded with them but because Fassbender's prominent member is on display in a few scenes it will not be for every taste. It's a film about sex but it is decidedly not sexy.

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