Dec 9, 2011

REVIEW: Shame (dir. McQueen)

Steve McQueen's Shame may be the best date movie for married couples I've ever seen. Kate and I arrived to find a theatre sparsely populated with couples and retirees — the two groups who most need to be reminded that quick, hard hook-ups against the side of dumpsters are not all they're cracked up to be. "That looks so uncomfortable," whispered Kate at one point, but then her favorite movie is The Sound of Music. I see it as one of my ongoing life projects to ply her away from films about the pleasures of close-harmony singing and redirect her gently towards austere films featuring the music of Glenn Gould about the pleasureless slog of three-in-a-bed romps and 24-hour wanking. That's what Shame is about: the daily grind of being a sex addict. It kicks off with a spellbinding sequence in which Fassbender undresses a woman on the subway with his eyes — an entire sexual act unto itself, from first blush to to shaky aftermath. You half expect them to light up. There's even a stab at comedy: a scene in which Brandon goes on an actual date. As the poor girl starts to ply him with personal questions you can practically see the curtain come down in Fassbender's eyes: he's long gone. Fassbender has a great smile for the purposes of this film: tight and clenched, barely a smile at all — even having fun he looks like he's undergoing root canal. During the day he works at a high-paying but unspecified corporate job — there's talk of "pitches" and "viral campaigns" — but the unspecificity is purposeful, the vagueness enshrouding everything like low-lying cloud, or amnesia: his sister Cissy (Carey Mulligan) turns up unnaounced, in need of a place to crash while she performs at the Boom Boom room. Isn't that a rather chi-chi gig for someone as strung out as Cissy? Never mind. What matters are the cool, austere compositions and the abstract curlicues of dialogue left hanging in the air: "Your hard drive is filthy, "you want to play" and so on. This minimalism only becomes a problem las McQueen ratchets up the emotional temperature of the Fassbender-Mulligan confrontations and the two actors find themselves grabbing for lines of dialogue like "I'm trying to help you" and "What are you trying to do to me?" It's all a little actors work-shoppy — urgent but context-free. And the final descent is a little slow to get going – I wanted more dire intimations, maybe some consequences at work, to kick in at about the hour mark — but the ending has a pleasing grimness to it. Kate and I exited the cinema clinging to one another, grateful. B

1 comment:

  1. If he makes references to "pitches" and "viral campaigns" that means he works in marketing. Of course.