I’ll be honest- I didn’t expect a movie about a man struggling with a sex addiction to be overly sexy or even heartwarming. I’d be lying though if I said I didn’t think it would touch on moments of passion between two people and at one point I thought it was going there only to be greeted with one more kick to the genitals. Steve McQueen paints a bleak picture in SHAME and its one that for all its ugliness is at its heart a beautiful piece of work. Beautiful in the way it explores the desperation and pain of an addiction that indeed causes shame due to its provocative and taboo nature.
I feel it’s safe to say SHAME is not a crowd pleaser. You have to know what you are getting into and know that this sort of thing is something you have the capability of enjoying. Not only is it a film about a man with a severe sex addiction, it’s also a dark depressing yet compelling exploration of the needs that drive our day to day lives and how our experiences in life drive us into those needs. What you need to know is that not a single frame of this film that features a lot of human flesh and sexuality is meant to make you feel good or to arouse/entice the viewer. This film destroyed me at several different points by the depths characters sink to and the sadness in their eyes- something I have to stand and applaud the actors for. However, I was also bored during select sections of the film as well which is just something else to be aware of- the film is subtle, quiet and begs for an introspective examination of the events rather than overwhelming slices of dialogue.
Movies that inspire further exploration after it ends are often the best kind. As much as I enjoy reliving high flying special effects in summer blockbusters with friends after the movie I do really love the occasional deep conversations that are born from movies like SHAME that beg the audience to share their interpretations of character actions, back stories and themes. You can read SHAME from more than one perspective that range from the source of the main characters addiction to the dynamic between brother and sister in the film.
Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, the unfortunate soul suffering from the sex addiction. Carey Mulligan plays his sister Sissy, who moves in unannounced and unknowingly helps to cause Brandon’s shady lifestyle spiral out of control. Fassbender and Mulligan knock their performances out of the park- both nailing the emotional devastation of their characters and have incredible chemistry on screen with each other. The nature of their relationship seems to be the anchor of the issues throughout the film as it remains a mystery as to just what lurks in their past, but obviously it weighs heavy on both of their minds as to how they’ve gotten to where they are. They have one particular exchange near the end that stands out as one of the most compelling and emotionally devastating scenes in the film as it leads to a final series of actions that just snowball and eventually come crashing to an even more heart wrenching interaction.
I mentioned before the amount of naked flesh in the film- and there is plenty- but none of it serves as a means to push across that Brandon enjoys his life. Sure, this good looking and successful dude is having almost no issue getting laid, but his face never has an ounce of passion or joy and instead is filled with sadness, pain and of course shame. I love the film for its complex and emotional study of a human being that in a state of pure agony and you can see it in his eyes when he just stares blankly at his pornography, or at attractive women on the subway- Brandon doesn’t see affection, he sees release of pain or just plain release as if sex is just like releasing air from his lungs. His sex life resembles that of a late night Cinemax skin flick- without the eroticism or occasional unintended comedy.
SHAME is filmed with an artistic eye and utilizes plenty of long and uncomfortable takes of characters just staring or characters confronting each other. There are also lingering shots of Michael Fassbender lounging around his apartment in the buff, giving the audience plenty of the actors naughty bits to absorb with their eyes rather they like it or not. As emotionally shaken as I was at times it cannot be ignored that there are times where the film drags a bit, but never to an extent that I could ever feel as though the film was losing me. SHAME is a fascinating look into the life of an addict- one that is not meant for the prudes of the world but for those with a profound love of cinema that aims to test the way we perceive things we may not always understand.
Don’t worry it’s not a mirage- you ARE seeing Ryan Gosling in just about every movie coming out lately. The good thing about that is that he is an immensely talented and versatile actor- which is ever so evident in Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film DRIVE. If that sounds like an incredibly vague and minimal title then just take my advice and buckle up because the dialogue in DRIVE is also minimal but all of the content and visuals pack enough punch to give anyone a severe case of whiplash.
I don’t want to give out too much info about the plot- though if you’ve seen the trailer that job’s been done for me- so I’ll just hit the bullet points. Ryan Gosling plays a character referred to only as driver, kid or wheelman throughout the film; he’s a car stuntman for movies, a mechanic and moonlights as a heist getaway driver. He gets involved with some shady individuals, some for business and some incidentally which forces him to protect a young mother (Carey Mulligan) and her son. To go any further or to dole out too many more details would likely spoil any dips and turns that the movie takes so let me just say this now- the film is more than worth the price of admission but enter with checked expectations as it is a film that is not for everyone.
The thing most everyone will immediately pull from the film is that there is not a whole lot of dialogue. Refn himself has said the original script was a slim 80 pages and on shooting days time was spent removing dialogue from the script. Instead what we have is a film where people express themselves silently with a variety of facial expressions and body language. A simple smirk or clenched fist with a leather glove goes a long way when Gosling is interacting with someone. When Gosling’s character does talk there’s a purpose and he can be very intense. The second thing will likely be the quick yet extreme bursts of graphic violence- which will either shock or amuse you (I heard both gasps and laughter at times), but either way it’s effective and well done. Depending on your enjoyment of the film once the blood starts flowing you’re either going to be on the edge of your seat or at least perking up with interest.
Performance-wise with such a minimal spoken word approach the actors are forced to bring their A game otherwise audience interest would really be tested. Luckily everyone does a great job and there isn’t a bad performance present. Gosling is the quietest of all but even when he’s not talking you can see the gears turning in his head and it just adds to the interest in the movie as you wonder what he could possibly be thinking. Albert Brooks plays a villain that is weirdly likable yet unpredictably scary and to top it off Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman give brief but great roles.
The best way to describe DRIVE is that it is a very patient movie that a patient audience will do nothing but appreciate. The film knows to grab your attention with the extremely riveting opening scene which is a picture perfect way to ratchet up the tension. After the opening Refn slows things down and gradually builds to an all out assault of tension and strong bursts of extremely painful acts of violence. The opening getaway that Gosling performs is pure entertainment- the scene is quiet and intense and really had my pulse pounding and I was with the film from then on out. That being said there are still dips and approaches that I was not fully on board with, but never ruined the movie.
It can be said that DRIVE gets to be a little over indulgent and repetitive with the use of slow motion and 80’s techno music playing over everything. I even at times was a little put off by the excessive use of the music and slow motion but it also adds to the disturbing nature of how the violent scenes build up. There’s also a very well staged scene between Gosling’s character and Perlman’s character on a beach with strobe light effect that had me giddy with how amazing it looked- but the culmination of the scene ended in an anticlimactic way- which can be said for other select scenes in the movie as well.
DRIVE is nowhere near your typical mainstream release and it carries an artsy retro feel that may very well alienate a crowd looking for something like FAST FIVE. With the intense yet smooth performance from Ryan Gosling and the very sleek indie style DRIVE is an extremely well done genre piece. Despite a few small complaints the film strikes the perfect beginning tone to carry itself through to the end. If you love big dumb action movies only then DRIVE is not your cup of tea- everyone that’s left that loves more subtle action films with bursts of insanity then it’s right up your ally.