Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

United Kingdom 2012
Directed by
Steve McQueen
101 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

Shame (2012)

Synopsis: Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful businessman living in New York who spends his nights watching internet porn, trawling bars for anonymous sex and hiring prostitutes to play out his fantasies for him. He’s compulsive, unable to stop. When his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) crashes at his apartment, Brandon can no longer insulate himself from the world and things start to fall apart.

Pornography aside the catalogue of films about sex addicts is pretty limited. I can only think of two films that have tackled the subject with any level of seriousness. There’s the exceptional black comedy Choke, and now, Shame. And to be honest, I think Choke is a better film because despite its surrealist humour there’s something to it that lets you inside the characters, and its finale delivers on its promise. McQueen’s film is much more clinical, the framing is mostly mid- to wide shots, and there’s a sense of detachment to the whole thing. Yet I admire the approach and Shame initially shows a lot more promise than Choke. But when the plot is as sketchy as this, it’s a mistake to try and let that drive your film. And to begin with, it doesn't, preferring instead to focus on individual scenes to build a picture of a man walling himself inside a prison of joyless sex.

The performances of Fassbender and Mulligan are amazing. There’s something to be said for watching two great actors riff off each other. Both are compelling and if there was any justice, awards would be doled out to both by the armful. Mulligan arguably has the tougher role, as Sissy is far less defined than Brandon, but both actors bring a lot of personality and depth to their characters. This is Fassbender’s show though, as he leads us through a life lived in quiet turmoil, trapped by the very things his boss dreams of - casual sex and wanton dissipation. In Brandon we get a sympathetic view of a man trying to numb himself to something dark and unspoken. Sissy shares that unspoken past, but in complete opposition,tries to drown the pain by seeking connection to every man she meets. Both are compulsive about sex, but Sissy tries to use it as a tool for connection while for Brandon it's a way to keep his distance.

Compelling as it is, Shame is an uneven effort, and a few things seriously mar it. There’s an excruciating dinner scene with a nervous waiter that’s completely at odds with the tone of the film. And then there’s the climax of the film, the problematic third act as Brandon is overwhelmed by self-loathing and goes on a bender that ends up costing Sissy dear. The need for a “lesson” of some kind, and the deliberately ambiguous finale, make this a far more judgmental story than the film seems initially to be.

I was discussing with some friends the other day how there seems to be a lack of room for “the solid effort”. Everything is either amazing or awful. And that’s a pity, because you miss out on a lot of good in the middle ground. Shame isn’t a brilliant movie, though it has touches of brilliance. The performances are excellent and the cinematography nothing short of gorgeous, but there’s that third act that stops it from all coalescing into a convincing work of art. This is one of those films that I admire, like quite a bit, but can’t get myself to love. And I want to love it, because for the most part it’s a gently compassionate look at a man trapped by his addictions, running to them to hide from things left unsaid. But for all its faults, I still think it’s a good film and is definitely worth your time.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst