FILM REVIEW: Shame (18)

Addiction is a dirty word, the stuff of garish tabloid headlines, yet we are all susceptible to compulsive behaviour.

Hankerings for caffeine, sugar or tobacco stem from the same dark places as drug and alcohol dependency.

We all have our emotional crutches and our escape routes from the harsh realities of modern life.

Breaking any habit is tough - already, countless New Year’s resolutions will have been shattered to smithereens - but the first step is recognising that physical and psychological need.

Michael Fassbender delivers a fearless, emotionally raw performance as a sex addict wrestling with his myriad demons in artist-turned-director Steve McQueen’s follow-up to the critically feted Hunger.

Littered with graphic scenes of sex and full frontal male nudity that fully justify the 18 certificate, Shame is neither erotic nor arousing.

Quite the opposite.

McQueen’s piercing study of human behaviour is clinical and non-judgmental, laying barely the flawed characters as they stumble towards the brink of self-destruction without any indication that the film-maker or his co-writer Abi Morgan will pull them back from the abyss.

Cinema through McQueen’s lens is never cute or fluffy but then neither is real life.

Brandon (Fassbender) is a handsome thirty-something office worker who is never short of bedfellows, including one of the secretaries (Nicole Beharie).

Anonymous pick-ups temporarily sate his cravings for physical pleasure but at night, he hungrily scours adult sites on the internet.

He even indulges his fantasies on his work PC and one morning his boss David (James Badger Dale) calls him into his office to warn, “Your hard drive’s filthy.”

Brandon’s routine of soulless couplings and seedy hook-ups is thrown into disarray by the arrival of his needy, younger sibling, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who is carving out a career as a singer.

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a dark place,” she tells Brandon tenderly as the siblings stumble towards their grim destiny.

Shame pulls no punches in its depiction of Brandon’s base desires.

The camera doesn’t spare blushes and the ensemble cast place their trust entirely in McQueen as he exposes the hollowness and despair beneath each instance of supposed pleasure.

Fassbender rises to the challenge magnificently - no pun intended - portraying his office drone as an empty husk, miserably alone in a city that never sleeps.

Such is the ferocity of his portrayal, he should be a major contender for an Oscar but his character plumbs some very murky depths that make for uncomfortable viewing.

Mulligan is equally mesmerising, nabbing the film’s best moment when Sissy sings in a bar and the camera lingers on her face as she sings a heartbreaking rendition of New York, New York.

Her fragile voice almost breaks and we can’t tear our eyes from the screen.

By Damon Smith

:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 9/10

Released: January 13 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas), 100 mins