Shame Blu-ray ReviewApril 20, 2012
Shame is a testament to the power of simplicity.
Very little is said in the way of dialogue. The camera work is ordinary, the setting familiar - and yet the events contained therein are striking and haunting. It's a film with a plain narrative that packs genuine power and leaves an indelible impression.
Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon Sullivan, a New York executive who lives with an insatiable sex addiction. His every free moment revolves around sexual gratification, whether it's watching pornography on his laptop (if only out of habit), masturbating in the men's room at work, or back alley excursions with women he's only just met.
His predilection for pleasure underlies a dark personality and conveys a deep-seeded self-resentment which is never fully explored but which comes to the fore upon the visit of his semi-estranged sister, Sissy ( Carey Mulligan, Drive), who serves as the living representation of the inner torment that he seeks to escape via his sexual encounters.
Despite the film's complex emotional content, the name of the game is, as stated before, simplicity. Writer/director Steve McQueen captivates with the most static of shots and the quietest of scenes, and yet the beauty and/or ugliness of the situations depicted.
Indeed, there is virtually no dialogue during the film's engrossing opening 10 minutes that establishes Brandon's addiction and the emptiness that persists regardless of his attempts to assuage it - it's exposition via imagery, and rather plain imagery at that.
In terms of the progression of the plot, the film plays out more or less as a series of vignettes. It's not quite mise en scene, but it's as close as a traditional film would dare come. Of course, there's very little about Shame that could be described as "traditional."
McQueen's script doesn't follow a standard three-act structure. The film's pace is like that of a car's headlights at night: They'll illumine the ten feet in front of the driver; once you reach the ten-foot mark, the headlights illumine the next ten feet. And so on.
All of the layers of the onion are never quite peeled back, leaving a lot to the interpretation and participation of the audience, a rarity in a film that boasts one of the most sought-after actors in show-business in Fassbender, whose performance is among the best of 2011.
In the search for a comparison to Fassbender's work in this film, the only one that comes close is Christian Bale's performance in American Psycho. Brandon may not be a deranged murderer, but Fassbender plays him with the same stark duality only in a more subdued and believable fashion. We are simultaneously charmed by his public persona, disturbed by his private demons, and saddened by his vacant existence.
As for Mulligan, where the story requirements of Drive required her to be little more than a bystander in a much larger story, Shame allows her to flex some impressive acting muscles. Sissy is a broad character who serves a wide function in the film, and Mulligan plays her with duality not dissimilar from Fassbender. Mulligan presents a character that is spunky and hopeful yet hopelessly-damaged and makes a true connection with the audience.
There is a scene in which Sissy, a lounge singer, performs a breathy rendition of 'New York, New York' that is both beautiful and haunting - everything you need to know about Sissy is conveyed in this one performance and Mulligan nails it. In many ways, thanks to both Mulligan's song and Fassbender's reaction to it, it is the most powerful scene in the film.
Shame is a fantastic movie in every way. It's simple yet unflinching, and it demands to be seen.
20th Century Fox brings Shame to Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that makes wonderful advantage of the inherent beauty of Sean Bobbit's cinematography. Skin tones are exceedingly-lifelike. There were no crushed blacks that I could detect, nor was there an overabundance of noise.
As for the sound, the 5.1 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack is masterful in its impact. It isn't a dialogue-heavy movie and even the ambiance is subdued to a large degree, but the score by composer Harry Escott, has been mixed wonderfully for this release. Sound is not a huge part of the movie, but when it needs to make its impact, it does so most successfully.
Beyond the Feature
Where the release falls flat is in its supplemental features. All we get are a handful of three-minute mini-docs and the theatrical trailer. With the buzz surrounding the film (its NC-17 rating alone almost demands in-depth extras), 20th Century Fox has dropped the ball here.
The bonus features are:
Only the Fox Movie Channel featurette is not presented in high definition. The release also comes with a DVD and digital copy of the film.
Lacking bonus features notwithstanding, Shame is a jewel of a picture. Both haunting and heartbreaking, it's one of the best character-driven pieces I've seen in years.
- Jason Jarman
Shop for Shame on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (April 17, 2012 release date).
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