Shame is a film about addiction, but what separates it from other movies on this subject is that the drug for Brandon (Fassbender) is sex. He gets his fix any way he can – one-night stands, prostitutes, internet porn – but his behaviour brings him no joy or satisfaction; just a constant, insatiable need for more.
The cyclical, self-destructive nature of addiction is vividly realised by McQueen, who directs with a frank confidence throughout, but Shame starts to adopt a more operatic tone in its latter stages as Brandon is brought to his knees, and this threatens to unbalance the picture.
The best moments are the quieter ones – a flirtation on the subway, a stunningly filmed late night jog – and there is plenty to admire in the two lead performances. Brandon's desire, despair and self-loathing are etched on the face of the astonishing Fassbender, and Carey Mulligan brings a touching fragility to her role as his sister, while simultaneously nailing a show-stopping rendition of New York, New York.