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Shame: Cock of the walk 

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SHAME
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DIRECTED BY Steve McQueen
STARS Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

Michael Fassbender in Shame - FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Michael Fassbender went all James Brown on us in 2011, as the hardest working man in show business - or at least in film - starred in no less than four motion pictures. Fassbender was compelling as Rochester in Jane Eyre, as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method and especially as Magneto in X-Men: First Class, but it was his role in Shame that allowed him to most fully expose himself, in more ways than one.

Shame, the first collaboration between Fassbender and director Steve McQueen since 2008's Hunger, focuses on the travails of a sex addict, a story that could only be adequately told in a film carrying the dreaded NC-17 rating. Certainly, this isn't one for the kiddies, and, I'd venture to say, it's not for most adults, either. Fassbender stars as Brandon, a New Yorker who's obsessed with sex. "You masturbate more than anybody on the planet," Chris Rock's Rufus tells Jason Mewes' Jay (of Jay and Silent Bob fame) in Kevin Smith's Dogma, but this film lays waste to that statement: Brandon jerks off in front of his computer, in his bathroom at home, in the bathroom stall at work, and seemingly anywhere short of a church pew. Yet his horndog activity isn't always a solo one: He's charming enough to pick up women at bars and, failing that, he can always rely on his stable of hookers. It's not surprising, then, that he finds it a nuisance when his emotionally fragile sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) unexpectedly appears on his doorstep, looking for a place to crash. And when a co-worker (the bright Nicole Beharie) shows interest in a real relationship, he's forced to reevaluate his lifestyle.

McQueen's direction is occasionally languid to a fault, and his script (co-written by Abi Morgan) manages to be both admirable and irritating in its pronounced vagueness ("We're not bad people," Sissy states at one point. "We just come from a bad place."). Yet while the movie might sport problems on the conceptual level, the haunting, tortured performance by Fassbender is an absolute knockout - to miss it would be a real, uh, shame.

Go here for a look at the 10 Best & 10 Worst Films of 2011.

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