From Clash, January 2012.
After debuting with Hunger, an oppressive study of extreme human behaviour and skewered morality based around the true story of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, Steve McQueen lives up to expectations with his brilliant and equally challenging second film Shame.
Set in a perma-nocturnal New York, Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a corporate figurehead more defined by his addiction to sex than his job. He narrowly flickers on the side of functional addict until his younger sister – the free-spirited, compulsive Sissy (Carey Mulligan) – arrives in town to stay in his flat, sparking a dual downward spiral between the two siblings.
Bolstered by intensely self-destructive performances by his two leads, McQueen is again unafraid to challenge conventions. In Hunger, that manifested itself with a lengthy, gruelling conversation between two key characters. Here he uses two extended scenes – Brandon’s late night jog and Sissy’s sensual vocal performance – to add a layer of depth that mere dialogue couldn’t establish.
Perhaps Shame’s biggest success is finding truly humorous moments in the earlier depictions of Brandon’s addiction, for the hell that follows is as grimy and disturbing as film comes. Shame is captivating adult cinema that reiterates McQueen’s status as a director of consummate skill and judgement.