Brandon (Fassbender) is a successful New Yorker who's happier to see a series of random women than to settle down into a relationship. Although he doesn't stop there, indulging also in porn and prostitutes. So when his wayward sister Sissy (Mulligan) shows up needing a place to stay, it kind of puts a crimp in his style. Especially when she hooks up with his married boss (Dale). Soon he begins to doubt himself, feeling a surge of guilt and shame over his private demons. But getting rid of his urges is another matter.
Morgan and McQueen's script refuses to either sensationalise or skirt around the subject, instead diving straight into the characters to see the world through their eyes. Everywhere Brandon looks he sees a suggestion of sex, and he seems unable to stop flirting with the women he meets. When he tries to straighten up his act by going a chaste date with a work colleague (Beharie), he seems like a shy schoolboy way out of his depth.
Fassbender plays each scene just as full-on as the script, baring his soul (and everything else) for the camera as Brandon both indulges in his sexuality and fights against it. It's a thoroughly involving performances, and the fact that we can see Brandon's blind spots makes it even more wrenching. Opposite him, he's matched scene-for-scene by an equally transparent, darkly moving performance from Mulligan. This is easily her best screen work yet, which is saying a lot.
McQueen directs this with an unusual eye, catching scenes from angles we don't expect and playing with New York architecture and geography to set people with or against each other. Thankfully, while the camerawork and music are offbeat and unusual, they don't call attention to themselves, but instead soak us in the atmosphere and situations. Even if the plot stumbles a bit in a sequence that feels oddly moralistic, this still a bracingly inventive film that leaves us thinking.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th January 2012
Box Office USA: $4.0M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Production compaines: See-Saw Films
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 154 Rotten: 42
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Steve McQueen
Producer: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman
Screenwriter: Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen
Starring: Carey Mulligan as Sissy, Michael Fassbender as Brandon, James Badge Dale as David, Hannah Ware as Samantha, Nicole Beharie as Marianne, Alex Manette as Steven, Elizabeth Masucci as Elizabeth, Marta Milans as cocktail waitress
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