Michael Fassbender did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Brandon Sullivan in Shame.
Michael Fassbender was not nominated for the Oscar even though he was well praised for the role, received a Bafta nomination, and it was one of four films he was in during the year. The academy obviously just did not care for the film since Shame did not receive any nominations period. The film was also rated NC-17 and deals with material that the academy is clearly not particularly comfortable with. Apparently the older members were not having fond memories about Midnight Cowboy when viewing this film, and that may largely be due to the main character who is a far cry from Joe Buck in that film.
Joe Buck as played by Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy was an overly joyful naive dreamer who wishes to exploit his supposed sexual prowess for monetary gain in quite a desperate looking New York City. Well the city has changed a lot as has the protagonist. Brandon is a successful enough man, and constantly participates in sexual acts, but he is only ever doing for his own wants and quite often is the one paying for it. Brandon though is a cynical man, and although he is seeking pleasure through all of the sex that is in his life he finds that he has very little of it to be found.
Michael Fassbender, as I said in my review of his performance in Hunger, has a unique virile screen presence that alone makes him watchable. Here this is used certainly well in almost a strange way though. Brandon is constantly having sex with women both prostitutes as well as women he picks up from bars and such. The differences seem almost meaningless as Brandon is done with the voluntary just as fast as the paid. Fassbender through his strength of his personality with his great charisma makes this of course very easy to believe, and the ease in which Brandon can be a sex addict is never in question.
The main crux of this performance though really is in Fassbender's whole portrayal of the attitude Brandon has when committing a sexual act of any kind throughout the film. Fassbender has certainly an energy in these scenes always suggesting that Brandon is very much actively pursing the satisfaction one would want in a sexual experience. Fassbender though never shows even a glint of pleasure in the act itself even if he shows it in an energetic fashion. There is a desperation Fassbender portrays instead, in Brandon's face is always a want for something in what he is doing, but at the end there is always disappointment and emptiness shown by Fassbender's expression.
A striking part of his portrayal of Brandon is that although there is never pleasure found in any moment of his sexual activities, Fassbender still shows that this was something lost in Brandon over some time. The reason for this, which is well played by Fassbender, is that in his moments of showing interest before the intercourse he shows glints of expectation and actually a hope that perhaps this one will finally bring him the pleasure he is constantly seeking but can never find. Fassbender shows that just like the alcoholic who always drinks but never can get drunk, Brandon constantly has sex but never sexual satisfaction.
The most persuading factor in Fassbender's performance is really the emptiness of Brandon's life. Fassbender effectively portrays this not really as a pain to Brandon, but instead a safety. There is problem from his past a trauma that apparently both he and his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) both suffered. It never is explicitly stated what exactly the trauma was, but it most certainly seriously messed up both of them. Fassbender is terrific showing the trauma seems to be something he avoids through being completely detached from anything, keeping himself only connected to things in a brief fashion like his one night stands.
The most powerful moments of Fassbender's performance come by way of the moments where Brandon is forced not to be empty such as when he goes on a date with his co-worker Marianne (Nicole Beharie). Fassbender is great in this scene as he shows both a great deal of awkwardness in Brandon as he treads through actual conversations, but he also effectively shows an underlying almost happiness expressed that is absent from him at all other times. When the relationship is about to become sexual, Fassbender is convincing in his depiction of the pain that does develop when he forced to do something with an actual emotional connection which prevents him from continuing the relationship.
The same problems appear when Brandon deals with his sister, which again Fassbender is great in portraying Brandon's difficulties involving a relationship he has to actually feel something about. Fassbender is quite strong in showing how to avoid his sister he can only really show anger toward her most of the time. Fassbender carefully creates the relationship that there is a connection there with some small degree of love, but again there is an avoidance that to actually become truly emotionally involved only leading to rage against her for basically making himself confront his own problems.
The film is frankly not always as compelling as it should be as I said it is just interesting, but never quite amazing as many of Steve McQueen's directorial flares seem like a little too much like directorial flares. This is great work from Fassbender creating a vivid portrait of this man though, even if there are a few moments by McQueen that seem to be there just to let Fassbender show off like the crying in the rain, but that is a fault of the film and not of Fassbender's work. And to be perfectly honest even in the scenes just to let Fassbender act, he still is great in these scenes even if they do not work toward his overall characterization as much as they should. This is a striking performance though that helps seal Michael Fassbender as one of the most intriguing actors of today.