Shame ★★★★★

95/100

A wailing and desperate cry of anguish and pain constructed within the leering jungle of NYC, Shame isn't so much a study of sexual addiction as it is a tortuous insight into crumbling relationships of the modern world. In Steve McQueen's film (which is possibly his masterpiece), feelings aren't told or even visualized as much as they're already within the details of the frame. Genuine conversation and aching truth make up every speck of grain from the gorgeous 35mm photography, and the result is a work of unpleasant frankness and harrowing sincerity.

Michael Fassbender is the obvious highlight here, and he's just as incredible, engaging, and unrelentingly sad as you'd expect from him in a role such as this, but Carey Mulligan matches his dexterity with ease. The results are soulful firecrackers, and with McQueen's trademark static long-takes (which I much prefer to other wizkids such as Cauron and Innaritu) capturing every nuance and shift in the ever-changing relationship, not a second feels superfluous.

The true mastery of Shame doesn't come from its biting electricity but from its structure, which is bold simply because of the decision to commit to atypical "set-piece" moments rather than natural progression. McQueen loves to set his characters into ruts and follow them as they experience hardship and pain, and Shame, just like 12 Years a Slave or Hunger, flows towards the light. Never have I seen a filmmaker craft works that enable such grieving empathy from its audience.