Steve McQueen's first two films both star Michael Fassbender, feature virtually interchangeable titles, and are nearly as grueling to watch as they must have been to make. But where Shame might be nearly as excruciating as 2008's Hunger, it's a lot less exalted. In Shame, Fassbender's 30-something Manhattan office drone mortifies his flesh; captive to an insatiable appetite for porn, whores, and quick hookups, both cyber and actual, he's a sex addict. Fassbender gives another extraordinarily physical performance, but, while often unclothed, he's less revealing (or at least more withholding). Crucifixion imagery abounds: Fassbender's Brandon is introduced sprawled out in bed, naked save for a blue loincloth of tousled sheets. His monastic high-rise apartment is barely distinguishable from the Standard hotel room where he nails high-class hookers against the giant windows. Is this God's city or Satan's? The tone is impressionistic, cool, and anti-erotic as Brandon embarks on a manic journey to the end of the night, torturing himself with daredevil barroom pickups, hooker orgies, and a side trip to some homo hell of iniquity. Increasingly awful, his passion leaves us less gasping in physical horror than grasping at metaphysical straws.
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