Ah, Michael Fassbender. Currently enjoying something of a meteoric rise to fame, courtesy of eye-catching roles in everything from Inglourious Basterds to X-Men: First Class, he is on record as saying that he owes it all to Steve McQueen (the artist-turned-director, rather than the actor). His breakthrough role, as IRA prisoner Bobby Sands in McQueen’s directorial debut, Hunger, showed his remarkable versatility, as well as a desire to push boundaries and challenge audience’s expectations. Along the way, he’s been remarkably prolific, collaborating with the likes of Steven Soderbergh, David Cronenberg and Ridley Scott, and attracting a great deal of tabloid attention due to what’s been rumoured to be a turbulent love life.

Following on from his appearances as Rochester in Jane Eyre and Magneto in X-Men, Fassbender now essays his third role in a year as a charismatic, magnetic figure with troubling secrets and a dark past. As Brandon, he plays an apparently successful, affluent man who is beset by crippling sex addiction, manifesting itself in near-constant sex with prostitutes and casual flings, a heroic amount of pornography, incessant masturbating at work and an apparent desire to be in continual carnal congress. When his troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) unexpectedly comes to stay, it sends him into overdrive, the only result of which is further degradation and self-loathing. Hence the title.

It’s all strongly reminiscent of American Psycho, as the protagonist’s division between his corporate life and his innermost desires comes to dominate him entirely. However, with one notable exception, the emphasis here is on sex rather than violence, with Fassbender’s face contorted in silent screams of despair reminiscent of Bacon’s paintings. It’s not an erotic film to watch, but it’s weirdly fascinating to see the various acts of fucking (and there is no other word for it) shown in such unflinching detail. I imagine it’ll be passed uncut as an 18 in the UK but some of the more outré material, including a threesome towards an end, will no doubt give the American censors, amongst others, headaches.

McQueen, directing from a screenplay by himself and Abi Morgan, prefers to keep the storytelling almost entirely visual, which works splendidly. Favouring long takes allows time for the performances to develop at their own pace, whether it’s Fassbender’s brooding protagonist, occasionally erupting in terrifying moments of verbal violence, or Mulligan’s sad, touching portrayal of an obviously damaged woman whose relationship with her brother may, or may not, have been rather too close for comfort in the past. Filmed in a New York utterly stripped of glamour, it’s tragic in the Aristotelian sense, with Brandon’s plight evoking both pity and terror. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an extremely accomplished sophomore feature, and one looks forward eagerly to more collaborations between Fassbender and McQueen.



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