Michael Fassbender is nude, a lot, in Shame. That's the dominant talking point for the NC-17 art-house film, which hits theaters Friday (watch trailer below). But Fassbender's portrayal of Brandon, a sex addict spiraling out of control, is earning buzz for more than just his full-frontal appearance. The actor — on a roll with well-received turns this year in X-Men: First Class, Jane Eyre, and A Dangerous Method — won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival in September. Indeed, his emotional turn as Brandon is being hailed as "the best performance of the year." Is Fassbender really that good?
This is acting at its finest: Both literally and metaphorically, Fassbender "lays himself bare," says Christy Lemire for the Associated Press. He so uncannily embodies this broken character that you "feel as if you're truly watching a man hell-bent on exorcising his demons through compulsive self-destruction." Director Steve McQueen (Hunger) bravely lingers on Fassbender's chiseled, hard face in unusually long, static shots, illuminating the actor's "riveting, haunting" portrayal even more. Fassbender can "do pretty much anything, and do it with startling masculine grace."
"Review: Fassbender lays himself bare in Shame"
And Fassbender is so courageous: Shame proves that Fassbender is not just a great actor, but a brave one, says Brian Tallerico at Hollywood Chicago. Most of his contemporaries would have turned down the role at the mere mention of nudity. For that alone, Fassbender's performance is "fearless." But his acting choices, which sometimes make his character unlikable or even confusing, are "daring" in their own right.
"Fassbender stars in riveting, daring Shame"
Fassbender is great. The movie is not: Fassbender wins the undesirable honor of "most outstanding performance in a mediocre movie," says Dana Stevens at Slate. At best, this film is a "curiously unfocused character study." We never learn why Brandon seeks out these sordid experiences, or any other illuminating details about his life, nor why a string of impossibly beautiful women have sex with a "random dude from the subway." Thankfully, Fassbender pulls off the magic trick of filling in "the script's blanks with a fully imagined performance."
"Shame it's not a better movie"