Many people were surprised that he wasn't nominated for an Oscar for "Shame", but Michael Fassbender's time will come. Isabel Lloyd picks his eight best roles ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2012
2003 The Quarrel
It’s only a Guinness ad, but at 26, Fassbender—German-born, Irish-raised—is already pitching for Hollywood. Bestubbled and determined, he marches and swims halfway across the world to square up to his betrayed brother (and pouting girlfriend) in a New York bar. “Sorry” he scowls—then melts into a smile. Pints, hugs and sly glances from the girlfriend follow. The camera’s suckered by his lazuli eyes and dark, ruffle-me hair; Fassbender puts down his marker as an actor who does triple shots of intensity, spiked with the vermouth of charm.
He might have shed a prodigal two stone to play Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s poetic film about the Thatcher-era H-Block hunger strikes, but there’s more to Fassbender’s performance than diet. His Sands is a wideboy in search of sainthood, a gobby shite who grips the Republican cause like a lover. And in the final, near-silent contemplations of his shrunken body, as he spreadeagles his death before the lens, you almost see his spirit rise like a bird from the wasted cage of his ribs.
2008 The Devil’s Whore
The English civil war was never like this, but wouldn’t it have been fun if it was? A ripe TV confection of half-witted history and heaving bosoms is pumped up by steroidal acting. Fassbender, as the pointy-tached Leveller colonel, Thomas Rainsborough, switches between the pure magnesium flare of political belief and a charcoal smoulder of longing for Andrea Riseborough’s feisty heroine. Among audiences, a new verb is coined: “to Fassbend”, or stare open-mouthed at male totty-talent.
2009 Fish Tank
Mia, a mouthy but essentially tender council-estate teenager, gets a crush on her mother’s good-looking new boyfriend. It’s a plot so slim that for Andrea Arnold’s film to stick, viewers have to follow the same innocent arc as Mia, from infatuation to execration. Fassbender plays it like a Stradivarius. From his first, tiny glance at Mia, to his final, stifled violence, he lets you slide inch by inch behind the mask of handsome, to find a soul so shallow that love can only suffocate in it.
2009 Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s second-world-war fantasy is lumpy with set-pieces, but the apple in its strudel is the shoot-out in the bierkeller, with Fassbender’s undercover British soldier at its centre. It is one of the few times he has used an accent other than his own, nasally inflected Irish. He clips the 1940s English consonants as neatly as a cigar, and perfects the stiff-hipped, shoulder-led strut of the period military man: Douglas Bader, as he might have been played by Sean Connery.
2011 Jane Eyre
It’s a tough job, inhabiting an archetype. Fassbender’s Mr Rochester succeeds because of a thread of human fragility that whets the edge of his menace. In the scene where he offers to take Jane to bed, he matches Mia Wasikowska’s lambent governess breath for breath as she flickers between desire and decency. Cary Fukunaga’s camera lingers on their faces, watching emotions pass across them like wind over the moors—and a female audience sighs in gratitude.
Back to McQueen for a film (pictured above) that is notionally about sex, actually about psychology: the self-defeating pyschology of addiction. Fassbender embodies that emptiness, stripped in body and flayed in soul. When he orgasms, his grimace shows a man impaled on his own despair. It’s “Confessions of a Window Cleaner” remade by Munch. And it proves that Fassbender has the chops, as well as the abs, to be more than just another movie star.
2012 A Dangerous Method
Christopher Hampton’s lukewarm script—notionally about psychology, actually about sex—is further cooled by the lack of chemistry between Fassbender’s Jung and his hysteric patient Keira Knightley (who, in lieu of a characterisation, sticks out her jaw). The real fire comes as the stiff-necked Jung meets Viggo Mortensen’s porpoise-sleek Freud: in their first psychoanalytic session they talk, apparently, for 13 hours. About penises.
"A Dangerous Method" is out now in Britain and America
Isabel Lloyd is deputy editor of Intelligent Life