Movie Review: Shame (2011)

February 17, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Writer-director Steve McQueen’s sex-addict movie, Shame, has been the talk of the town lately because of Hollywood’s biggest new star, lead actor Michael Fassbender’s…um…”assbender”.

Fassbender’s appendage, which is on full display in the film, has been the subject of a slew of jokes, including from George Clooney, who asked during his Golden Globes acceptance speech if Fassbender had ever played golf with his hands tied behind his back (other jokes include “Fassbender puts pornstars to Shame“, “Fassbender has nothing to he aShamed of”, “Fassbender puts Vincent Gallo to Shame”, “Fassbender is going to be starring in Boogie Nights 2: No Prosthetics Needed“, etc). (Okay, I made pretty much all of them up.)

Oh, yes, what’s the film about?  Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, a successful New Yorker who just can’t keep it in his pants.  The guy just needs it all the time, wherever, whoever, you name it.  And he’s not even the master of his domain, if you know what I mean.  It’s actually quite debilitating and not as exciting as it seems.  His sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, shows up out of nowhere and turns Brandon’s life upside down.  Sissy has some serious issues of her own, and it’s obvious they are both trying to forget their troubled past, which is hinted but never revealed.

You would think that a film about a sex addict would be a comedy, but Shame is extremely dark and depressing, pretty much all the way through.   Like most addictions, Brandon’s issues are deeply rooted (pun intended), and McQueen does not glamorise it at all, making his best efforts to convey the condition in a realistic manner.  It’s portrayed not a whole lot differently to any type of serious addiction, be it drugs or alcohol — though I wouldn’t say the film is as harrowing as say Requiem for a Dream.

Despite the film being centred around sex, it’s not gratuitous — though there is a fair bit of it, there’s not nearly as much sex and nudity as one would expect.  Credit to McQueen for showing enough to convey what’s necessary but not to the point where it becomes exploitative.

I haven’t seen all of the Oscar best actor nominees, so I can’t make a definitive statement — but it’s a minor travesty that Fassbender, who also starred in McQueen’s acclaimed debut, Hunger,  was not given the nod this year for his daring, brilliant, controlled performance.  Without him, I’m not sure how this film would have turned out.  Also very impressive is Carey Mulligan, who hadn’t jumped out at me before in previous roles but was particularly effective here as the needy, disruptive Sissy.  The singing scene was a little cringeworthy but everything else was solid.

Shame is very much an indie drama film, so it’s not going to be for everyone.  There are long, lingering shots and plenty of conversation and silence.  But at the end of the day, everything is there for a reason and as a result the film works as a piece of compelling cinema.  It’s a an effective and disturbing portrayal of an addiction that robs the afflicted of their ability to make an emotional connection with other people.  I was riveted from start to finish.

4 stars out of 5