Michael Fassbender is one of the most talented actors to emerge in recent years. Since his breakout role in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, he has gone on an acting rampage with some of the most talented directors in the world, including David Cronenberg, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino. He often plays characters who you normally would not sympathize with, but his tremendous range and emotional depth make it nearly impossible. Oscar recently snubbed him for his performances in Shame and A Dangerous Method, though he hopefully has plenty of time to wow them and a wider audience in the coming years.
Hunger- Fassbender storms into the frame about 20 minutes into this brutal look at an Irish Republican Army’s hunger strike under the reign of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. He brings the movie to vicious life as Bobby Sands, whose rebel spirit and ultimate sacrifice are the movie’s subject more than its political undertones. The grimy, shit-covered walls of their prison look medieval, and Fassbender’s emaciated figure is not a special effects marvel. It’s one of the best physical and emotional performances in years.
A Dangerous Method- Dr. Carl Jung could’ve been a villain, but Fassbender plays him as a deeply conflicted, ultimately pathetic everyman. Along with Sigmund Freud, he layed the foundations for modern day psychoanalysis. As it turns out, he also had kinky sex with his patient, the brilliant but hysterical doctor Sabina Spielren. The way Fassbender unleashes his animalistic desires with her only to go home to his docile wife and their comfortable residence on a Swiss lake shows him and director David Cronenberg at the peak of their powers.
Shame- Not to be outdone for his kinky, fully clothed performance as Dr. Jung, Fassbender bears/bares it all in his second collaboration with Steve McQueen. He plays the sex addict known simply as Brandon, whose life is illustrated through his sexual interactions with women and his intrusive, flamboyant sister (Carey Mulligan). The film itself is an exercise in misery for misery’s sake, but the acting is extraordinary, with Fassbender creating another physically and emotionally devastating portrait for McQueen. This movie also could’ve been called Hunger.
Fish Tank- Fassbender is a supporting character in Andrea Arnold’s explosive Fish Tank, but he steals every scene he’s in. Connor at first appears to be a man who can finally bring the vicious Mia and her boozing mother together. Then, he cheats on the mom with the daughter, which sets the already fuming narrative ablaze. Fassbender again injects charm into a character who could’ve been pure sleaze. As a result, it’s a somewhat complex portrait of a man at the mercy of his sexual whims who tries to reconcile it by being the nice guy.
X-Men: First Class- Without Fassbender’s take on Magneto, this X-Men would’ve been lost among the other summer wreckage. Thanks to him and the inventive direction of Matthew Vaughn, though, it was a summer action movie with an explosive, tormented character at its center. Fassbender captures this soon-to-be supervillain’s rage and pain, making us see how he became a monster even if we ultimately don’t sympathize with him.
Other notable performances: Inglourious Basterds, Haywire and Jane Eyre