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157 of 162 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Dance Of Dysfunction That Seems Designed To Polarize Its Audience
While most mainstream critics have praised the daring work of leads Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, the reception to co-writer/director Steve McQueen's "Shame" has been somewhat mixed. It's really no surprise as this gritty and unpleasant film seems designed to polarize its audience. A lot of attention has been focused on the film's nudity and sexual content, and...
Published on January 24, 2012 by K. Harris

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79 of 92 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Repercussions
"Shame" has been billed as an "addiction drama," the addiction in this case being a sexual addiction. When I saw this film in the theatre, there was a vibe about the audience ... many of the people in the theatre were clearly planning on being titillated, shocked, or turned on by the film. Those people were probably disappointed since, despite plenty of nudity and sexual...
Published on January 23, 2012 by Douglas King


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157 of 162 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Dance Of Dysfunction That Seems Designed To Polarize Its Audience, January 24, 2012
While most mainstream critics have praised the daring work of leads Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, the reception to co-writer/director Steve McQueen's "Shame" has been somewhat mixed. It's really no surprise as this gritty and unpleasant film seems designed to polarize its audience. A lot of attention has been focused on the film's nudity and sexual content, and I'm pleased to see that the dreaded NC-17 rating hasn't discouraged year-end accolades from being awarded to its stars. While I'm not sure that "Shame" is as fraught with meaning as some of its more ardent supporters would have you believe, I do think that it is a dizzyingly unique film. As a character study, and a fascinating one at that, the screenplay actually tells you very little about the central pair of disturbed siblings. And yet, as the film progressed, my mind filled in all the blanks. You are invited to watch their most intimate and destructive behavior while only given clues as to the psychological origins that set them on these paths. The fact that the movie doesn't spell things out is perhaps my favorite thing about it and what sets it apart.

Fassbender plays a successful New York professional that wallows in random sexual encounters. While he is never labeled an addict, per se, his behavior is certainly compulsive and seems to invade and control every aspect of his day. He seems to relish the life, except in moments of introspection, but his ability to connect with people on a meaningless physical level has superceded any real emotional relationships. When his troubled sister (Mulligan) stays with him, it seems to stir up a lot of conflicting feelings. The two do a strange and compelling dance of dysfunction. She is needy and possibly dangerous to herself, and Fassbender seems incapable or simply unwilling to let her get close. As I said, the film doesn't explore their history in any tangible way, but it's not hard for the viewer to start making connections and interpretations about how they got to this point. Perhaps not everyone will read the film in exactly the same way, but that's part of its power.

Is hope and/or reformation possible? Or is it simply too late? Despite all of the hooking up, "Shame" is filled with loneliness and despair. While their acts bring them into contact with others, they also alienate them in irreparable ways. The film comes to an emotional, and not particularly surprising, conclusion. But whether or not anything has actually changed is, once again, left open to interpretation. If you need a grand plot or a big story arc, this isn't a film for you. This is just an intensely close look at characters adrift without purpose. Michael Fassbender is proving to be one of the most reliable and versatile actors of his generation, and 2011 has been a great year for him with a string of diverse projects. Alternately charming and chilling, this is a terrific piece that relies more on what he doesn't say than on what he does. And Mulligan is also a study of conflicts and vulnerability. "Shame" is easily worth it for these performances, but this bleak movie is certainly not for everyone. KGHarris, 1/12.
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161 of 169 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic filmmaking that's still hard to recommend., January 23, 2012
By 
RMurray847 (Albuquerque, NM United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
WARNING: While not explicit, per se...this review does touch on some subject matter some folks might simply not want to read about. I don't mean to offend anyone, but there's no way to review the movie otherwise, in my opinion.

SHAME has been called the "movie about the sex addict" and this is a rather unfair over-simplification. It also implies that there might be lots of juicy sex scenes, especially given its NC-17 rating. If THIS is what you're expecting, you are in for a disappointment.

Director Steve McQueen's film is a character study of one very specific sex addict, Brandon (Michael Fassbender). And I'm not even sure if Brandon is a sex addict or something different. He is certainly a man driven to spending virtually all his spare time (and much of his time at work) viewing porn and pleasuring himself. He spends lots of money on prostitutes. He is also attractive enough to draw yearning from women looking for a good time and a quickie in an alley (literally at one point). But NONE of these activities give him any pleasure whatsoever. In fact, he seems to suffer a psychic pain at his despair in not truly drawing any pleasure from his compulsions. I read one review in which the viewer describes him as a "monster." I felt much the opposite...he is a creature to be pitied. Having said that, I felt pity mostly because we saw everything from Brandon's perspective. Not much attention is paid to the damage he may be causing others (with one key exception, which I'll discuss below)...therefore, we see HIS torment and HIS unhappiness and HIS damage. It's hard not to feel sorry for him, even as we're repulsed by his activities. This is a smart guy who knows better...but his self-knowledge only makes him hate himself more...it does not curtail his destructive activities.

Brandon's specific damage is linked to the damage his sister carries (Carey Mulligan). She, too, is looking for love and is deeply unhappy. When she moves, unasked, into Brandon's spartan NYC apartment, she is an interloper on his privacy, but more importantly, she reignites unhealthy feelings each shares for the other. They are very open with each other about their bodies (there is a long scene where the two have a heated exchange which she stands naked in the shower, and makes no effort to cover). They give each other longing looks. They've clearly both been damaged by events in their childhoods, and this has created a strong but very unhealthy bond between the two. Brandon senses it more than she, but his efforts to push her away are damaging to both of them.

SHAME is a well-crafted film. There are many interesting shots. In one, Brandon is running down an avenue, and the camera tracks him for several blocks, in one long take. In another scene, Brandon and a co-worker are on a first date at a restaurant, and one long shot captures the first several minutes of the date...from amusing encounters with the waiter to telling moments of conversation. It's a fascinating and engaging scene that a viewer will either find riveting (because so many little moments are so telling) or dull as can be (because they talk about so little and the camera is so still). And there's another scene in which Brandon's sister sings a VERY slow version of "New York, New York" in a nightclub, while Brandon listens. The torment they each express is gripping, and with almost no words (beyond the lyrics of the song) we learn an awful lot about their relationship.

Mulligan is outstanding in her role, and she should be in the Oscar conversation. She exposes herself physically in unflattering ways, but is heartbreaking as well. Fassbender is riveting as well. His performance is daring in that he has totally committed to this pitiable, unlikeable role in such a way that after just over ninety minutes, we feel we know Brandon about as well as we have ever known a movie character. We don't know the facts of his past, or quite what he does for a living. But we know his pain. We see how his mind works. Yes, there's also full frontal...but that seems less brave than the anguish he puts himself through.

The sex in the film is actually not a whole lot more explicit than what you'd see in an R-rated movie. It's the casual nudity in other scenes that got the NC-17 rating. But none of it is titillating or erotic. This is a movie that shows sex is not only NOT a substitute for meaningful human contact but can actually destroy goodness, ambition, empathy and humanity. Sobering stuff.

SHAME is a well-made film, extremely well acted, that will absolutely turn off most viewers. This is not to say that someone only "sophisticated" viewers or "daring" viewers will like it. I admired it greatly, but didn't enjoy it. It shows ugly, unpleasant things happening...even if you aren't bored by the slow pace, you might be greatly put-off by the subject matter or the view of humanity it posits. I'd say "see it," but if you hate it...don't blame me for wasting your time. I've probably not seen a film that is more of a "viewer beware...you may both LOVE and HATE this film at the same time" since BLUE VELVET.
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80 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shame, December 26, 2011
By 
Directed by Steve McQueen, "Shame" explores sexual addiction, alienation, and loneliness in contemporary New York City. With its many sex scenes, the film manages to be unerotic. The movie and its actors have received numerous accolades. The acting is convincing and the scenes of city life well drawn. Many viewers will find this film disturbing.

The film stars Michael Fassbender as a successful 30ish professional named Brandon who cannot control his sexual appetites or channel his sexuality into a relationship. Brandon is both a predator and a victim. He is apparently able to pick up attractive similarly lonely women on the spot for short encounters. Brandon also uses the services of prostitutes. When he is home alone, he watches pornography and camgirls on his computer. He gets confronted with a wide range of pornographic material on his office computer. He is unable to function in an attempted relationship with a coworker, Marianne, (Nichole Beharie) which involves attempted emotion beyond sex. Fassbender plays this role well in his lines, dress, gestures, and facial expressions. He has a sense of decency and is at war with himself.

The other primary character in "Shame" is Brandon's younger sister Sissie played by Carrie Mulligan. Sissie has suicidal tendencies and is emotionally needy. She moves in with Brandon early in the film and the emotional tension mounts between the siblings as the movie progresses. Each sees the serious, devastating issues in the life of the other. Brandon's sexual addition and his relationship with Sissie become intertwined and form the two themes of this movie.

The movie makes have use of atmosphere to establish the sordid character of Brandon's mind. There are many scenes of crowded subways which capture the lonely, solitary character of much urban life. There are pick-up scenes in bars, from the fancy to the seedy, which stress lack of emotional connection. The movie shows several scenes of paid sex between Brandon and various women together with the shame and sadness felt by both parties. The musical score is ominous and brooding, punctuated by Glenn Gould playing Bach and by various pop songs. Sissie is trying to make it as a singer and, in a pivotal scene of the movie, offers a rendition of "New York New York" in the company of Brandon and his boss.

The movie includes substantial nudity, male and female. To their credit, the producers declined to soften the movie to receive an "R" rather than a "NC-17" rating. The movie offers an effective portrayal of how sex can become a narcotic to deal with loneliness in a harsh world.

Robin Friedman
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55 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Dance Of Dysfunction That Seems Designed To Polarize Its Audience, April 16, 2012
This review is from: Shame (Amazon Instant Video)
While most mainstream critics have praised the daring work of leads Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, the reception to co-writer/director Steve McQueen's "Shame" has been somewhat mixed. It's really no surprise as this gritty and unpleasant film seems designed to polarize its audience. A lot of attention has been focused on the film's nudity and sexual content, and I'm pleased to see that the dreaded NC-17 rating hasn't discouraged year-end accolades from being awarded to its stars. While I'm not sure that "Shame" is as fraught with meaning as some of its more ardent supporters would have you believe, I do think that it is a dizzyingly unique film. As a character study, and a fascinating one at that, the screenplay actually tells you very little about the central pair of disturbed siblings. And yet, as the film progressed, my mind filled in all the blanks. You are invited to watch their most intimate and destructive behavior while only given clues as to the psychological origins that set them on these paths. The fact that the movie doesn't spell things out is perhaps my favorite thing about it and what sets it apart.

Fassbender plays a successful New York professional that wallows in random sexual encounters. While he is never labeled an addict, per se, his behavior is certainly compulsive and seems to invade and control every aspect of his day. He seems to relish the life, except in moments of introspection, but his ability to connect with people on a meaningless physical level has superceded any real emotional relationships. When his troubled sister (Mulligan) stays with him, it seems to stir up a lot of conflicting feelings. The two do a strange and compelling dance of dysfunction. She is needy and possibly dangerous to herself, and Fassbender seems incapable or simply unwilling to let her get close. As I said, the film doesn't explore their history in any tangible way, but it's not hard for the viewer to start making connections and interpretations about how they got to this point. Perhaps not everyone will read the film in exactly the same way, but that's part of its power.

Is hope and/or reformation possible? Or is it simply too late? Despite all of the hooking up, "Shame" is filled with loneliness and despair. While their acts bring them into contact with others, they also alienate them in irreparable ways. The film comes to an emotional, and not particularly surprising, conclusion. But whether or not anything has actually changed is, once again, left open to interpretation. If you need a grand plot or a big story arc, this isn't a film for you. This is just an intensely close look at characters adrift without purpose. Michael Fassbender is proving to be one of the most reliable and versatile actors of his generation, and 2011 has been a great year for him with a string of diverse projects. Alternately charming and chilling, this is a terrific piece that relies more on what he doesn't say than on what he does. And Mulligan is also a study of conflicts and vulnerability. "Shame" is easily worth it for these performances, but this bleak movie is certainly not for everyone. KGHarris, 1/12.
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79 of 92 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Repercussions, January 23, 2012
By 
Douglas King (Cincinnati, OH United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
"Shame" has been billed as an "addiction drama," the addiction in this case being a sexual addiction. When I saw this film in the theatre, there was a vibe about the audience ... many of the people in the theatre were clearly planning on being titillated, shocked, or turned on by the film. Those people were probably disappointed since, despite plenty of nudity and sexual situations, there was absolutely nothing sexy about this film. Every time Brandon (the central character and sexual addict, bravely and hauntingly portrayed by Michael Fassbender) acts out, it's an act of desperation and a way of numbing the intense pain and alienation that is written all over his face.

"We're not bad people, we just come from a bad place," says Sissy (Carey Mulligan), Brandon's sister, to her brother in one of the many desperate voicemail messages she leaves him throughout the film. The film's "elephant in the room," which is never spelled out explicitly but is obvious throughout every single scene, is that Brandon and Sissy were both sexually abused as children, probably by their parents. As adults, they are both hopelessly damaged. Brandon seeks constant, compulsive sexual gratification but is completely unable to have an authentic, genuine interaction with another human being. Sissy also acts out sexually, but, unlike Brandon, clings desperately and inappropriately to those around her, as well as self-harms (by cutting).

It's hard to give this film a "grade." Why? Because it's not a film that is enjoyable to watch on any level. Practically every scene is painful ... you're spending two hours watching two tortured, ruined human beings self-destructing. But at the same time, the film is beautifully shot and directed, and the two lead performances are outstanding. And the film succeeds on a basic level, by showing how childhood sexual abuse can destroy its victims.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable subject, outstanding acting, January 1, 2012
By 
In this lurid tale of sexual addiction, director and co-writer Steve McQueen teams up again with Michael Fassbender ("Hunger"). Brandon (Fassbender) is a moderately successful sales manager that outwardly appears to be just a regular single guy in Manhattan. Behind closed doors (or open windows) he can't get enough sex. If he can't get it by picking up girls, he will resort to prostitutes or internet porn. If that's inconvenient, then there's the old fashion do it yourself method. He has no interest in relationships. In the one tryst he has with a co-worker who wants something beyond sex, Brandon can't pull the trigger. There's something clearly wrong with this guy.

His life becomes complicated when his sister (Carey Mulligan in another terrific performance) shows up at his apartment uninvited. Their initial encounter when he walks in on her in the shower alerts us that something is amiss. He has an unusually long conversation with her as she stands before him in all her full frontal glory. Hmm. The siblings couldn't be more different. Brandon is almost a recluse. He socializes but only if there is a chance for sex. Sissy (Mulligan) is talkative, effervescent and looking for fun. She is a troubled soul however.

We see this initially when Brandon and his boss (James Badge Dale, TV's "Rubicon") go to a club where Sissy has a gig singing. In a featured scene she sings a sorrowful rendition of "New York, New York" that brings a tear to Brandon...and me. In another scene, Sissy cuddles up to Brandon in the middle of the night. He rightfully throws her out but why would she do that? In another scene, she says to him "we are not bad people; we just come from a bad place." Certainly a history of incest is suggested as the cause of their psychological damage. Unfortunately, McQueen does little to flesh out this cause and effect background.

The film is graphically presented in terms of language, nudity and sexual activity earning the NC-17 rating. The performances by Fassbender and Mulligan are special and worthy of awards. Many people will have trouble watching this film for a variety of reasons. Once will do for the performances of the leads.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'We're not bad people. We just come from a bad place. ', April 19, 2012
By 
This review is from: Shame (Amazon Instant Video)
SHAME is a brilliant, courageous, visually and emotionally stunning film by a new team of collaborators - director/writer Steve McQueen, cinematographer Sean Babbitt, and actor Michael Fassbender first gave us the unforgettable HUNGER and now they have teamed to present yet another unique work that will likely go down as one of the finest films of the decade. Abi Morgan (The Hours television series, The Iron Lady, Tsunami, Sex Traffic) co wrote the screenplay with McQueen; they seem to have an affinity for each other. This film has been controversial from the first mention that it was being made and controversy usually means that people are reacting strongly (both positively and negatively) to an art work - the true indication that this is by definition Art.

The extraordinarily complex story of 21st century isolation and inability to connect with other people except on a unidirectional level of sexual contact is distilled in the role of Brandon (Michael Fassbender, in a multifaceted yet intensely focused performance): Brandon's life is dominated by near anonymous sexual encounters, internet pornography, and multiple daily escapes into onanism, He is quiet, handsome, and utterly irresistible to women and he takes advantage of this preoccupation with sexuality as a loner, living in an apartment, free of relationships, holding down a fine job as an account manager. This changes when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) `moves in' and her unwanted presence alters Brandon's modus operandi. Brandon's boss, the married with children Dave (James Badge Dale) envies Brandon's way with women, always losing in his unpracticed approaches to pickups to Brandon's superior techniques. Dave meets Sissy at a nightclub where Sissy is singing (Mulligan's rendition of Kander and Ebb's `New York, New York' was apparently shot in one take at 3 AM while cameras focuses on the three actors - genuine responses to t a deeply moving moment) and ends up sleeping with Sissy. Brandon, frustrated with Sissy's presence and behavior ultimately leads to his throwing her out of his apartment - an act that has an impactful result. Meanwhile Brandon attempts to `relate' both emotionally and physically with fellow office worker Marianne (Nicole Beharie) with embarrassing results. And in his frustration he walks the night streets having sexual encounters with multiple partners out in the open, in a gay bar, and in thwarted attempts to pickup a girl whose boyfriend beats him severely.

Much of the success of this art piece is due to the manner in which McQueen presents his story. Many of the scenes ore simply faces on the subway and Brandon's fantasies, all accompanied by a musical score by Harry Escott who has elected to use multiple recordings of Glenn Gould playing Bach's Goldberg Variations and Preludes and Fugues - the sublime simplicity of Bach's statements in marked contrast to the chaos in Brandon's mind and actions. In a splendid scene as Brandon awaits a subway, when his mind is tortured and out of control cinematographer Babbitt distorts the image like an acid trip. But most impressive is the choice to concentrate on Brandon's face as he eyes tricks or faces the world in which he lives in his out of control state - a face so misguided and needy and yet sensuous that it makes the film draw us inside a character's psyche like few other films have been able.

Michael Fassbender does the impossible; he creates a role that despite the behavioral abnormalities remains a man about whom we care about deeply. At film's beginning there is subtle male frontal nudity and Fassbender's remarks about that are mature and enlightening: `To be honest with you again, I think it's the idea of male frontal nudity. It just baffles me: Women can parade around naked all the time, but the guy conveniently has his pants on. I remember my mom always complaining about that to me, saying, "This is such `b-s', it's always the women who are naked" ... so I did this one for you, Mom! Everyone involved in this film is to be commended for the highest level of artistic achievement. And that extends to the credits at film's end: each participant's name is flashed on the screen with a single musical chord on the piano. The effect is respectful and in keeping with the brilliance of the movie. Grady Harp, April 10
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Painful and powerful, July 27, 2012
This review is from: Shame (Amazon Instant Video)
I watched this last night and had to let it digest before writing a review. This movie was far more painful and powerful than I expected it to be. The performances were excellent and multi-layered. I guess I thought it was going to be more about Brandon's (Michael Fassbender) sexual addiction, but it really was much more about making connections with people, emotional stress, the price of relationships. Yes, he turned to porn and prostitutes for release and relief from his otherwise tightly wound, buttoned up life that was carefully constructed to hide the pain surging beneath. But the real story was the tension between him and his sister, the beautiful and frail but manipulative Sissy (hope I'm spelling that right), whose instability leashed them together. They never talked explicitly about their past, but you knew something had to have happened to them to make them this way. They were like shell-shocked survivors of a war who never learned how to function in "normal" society. But then the movie also does a great job of peeling back the layer on what is "normal" as well, when it shows Brandon's married boss having a loving chat with his son one minute, then sleeping with Sissy the next, with no regard for a tortured Brandon in the next room. There is also a flirtatous yet married woman on the subway who is the narrative arc tying together the beginning and end of the tale. Of all of them, Brandon seems to be the one who truly craves a connection with another human being, while everyone around him is just throwing away what comes so easily to them. Very emotional, and really makes you think. Overall, I thought this was a truly masterful and heart-wrenching piece of filmmaking and acting.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Dance Of Dysfunction That Seems Designed To Polarize Its Audience, April 17, 2012
This review is from: Shame (Amazon Instant Video)
While most mainstream critics have praised the daring work of leads Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, the reception to co-writer/director Steve McQueen's "Shame" has been somewhat mixed. It's really no surprise as this gritty and unpleasant film seems designed to polarize its audience. A lot of attention has been focused on the film's nudity and sexual content, and I'm pleased to see that the dreaded NC-17 rating hasn't discouraged year-end accolades from being awarded to its stars. While I'm not sure that "Shame" is as fraught with meaning as some of its more ardent supporters would have you believe, I do think that it is a dizzyingly unique film. As a character study, and a fascinating one at that, the screenplay actually tells you very little about the central pair of disturbed siblings. And yet, as the film progressed, my mind filled in all the blanks. You are invited to watch their most intimate and destructive behavior while only given clues as to the psychological origins that set them on these paths. The fact that the movie doesn't spell things out is perhaps my favorite thing about it and what sets it apart.

Fassbender plays a successful New York professional that wallows in random sexual encounters. While he is never labeled an addict, per se, his behavior is certainly compulsive and seems to invade and control every aspect of his day. He seems to relish the life, except in moments of introspection, but his ability to connect with people on a meaningless physical level has superceded any real emotional relationships. When his troubled sister (Mulligan) stays with him, it seems to stir up a lot of conflicting feelings. The two do a strange and compelling dance of dysfunction. She is needy and possibly dangerous to herself, and Fassbender seems incapable or simply unwilling to let her get close. As I said, the film doesn't explore their history in any tangible way, but it's not hard for the viewer to start making connections and interpretations about how they got to this point. Perhaps not everyone will read the film in exactly the same way, but that's part of its power.

Is hope and/or reformation possible? Or is it simply too late? Despite all of the hooking up, "Shame" is filled with loneliness and despair. While their acts bring them into contact with others, they also alienate them in irreparable ways. The film comes to an emotional, and not particularly surprising, conclusion. But whether or not anything has actually changed is, once again, left open to interpretation. If you need a grand plot or a big story arc, this isn't a film for you. This is just an intensely close look at characters adrift without purpose. Michael Fassbender is proving to be one of the most reliable and versatile actors of his generation, and 2011 has been a great year for him with a string of diverse projects. Alternately charming and chilling, this is a terrific piece that relies more on what he doesn't say than on what he does. And Mulligan is also a study of conflicts and vulnerability. "Shame" is easily worth it for these performances, but this bleak movie is certainly not for everyone. KGHarris, 1/12.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fassbender and Mulligan do powerful, desperate, and devastating work., August 5, 2012
To all of the actors we've been introduced to over the past few years, two that have made a significant impression have been Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. After seeing Fassbender in more commercial films like 300 and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, he made quite an impression, and after seeing Mulligan in AN EDUCATION, I was totally taken with her talent and charm. Then I saw and was absolutely stunned by Fassbender's performance in HUNGER (directed by this film's director Steve McQueen), based on a true story of an Irish political prisoner who goes on a hunger strike. It was an amazing performance and probably one of the most affecting performances of recent years. Also continuing to shine was Mulligan in films like the haunting and underrated NEVER LET ME GO and my personal pick of best film of 2011, DRIVE.

But SHAME is a showcase for both of these great actors in incredibly bare (both figuratively and literally) and incredibly powerful performances.

Fassbender plays Brandon, a young professional in New York City. He is also a sex addict, and while some people play around with the idea of defining Brandon as such, it is absolute. He cannot function throughout the day without different sexual acts, liasons, and exposure to sexual input, and the level of danger that it can represent is of little consequence to him; It's the same as being a drug addict or an alcoholic. Then comes along Sissy (Mulligan), Brandon's less responsible and emotionally unstable sister as she invades his apartment and his life. She is an addict of a different sort; she craves love and attention and affection, and Brandon, being who he is, seems incapable of giving something of what she wants to her.

Fassbender plays Brandon as something of a predator; riding the subway, he scans the different people and finds a beautiful woman who smiles at him, but he never smiles back. He looks as her as if she's a meal or a fix; something to sate his neverending appetite, and when she gets off the train, he pursues her in a very unsettling way. He is also emotionally empty inside and realizes it. He's not a sociopath; he just uses sex to express all of his feelings and to fill the emptiness inside him. The closer he gets to someone emotionally, the more sexual encounters he requires, and this builds to a crescendo of self-punishment and more extreme sexual acts when he and Sissy have a massive fight about their meaning to one another. Mulligan plays Sissy as someone who is desperate for attention and affection, but in a more playful manner than Brandon's predatory persona. She may initially appear as quirky and free-spirited, but is as equally self-destructive, seeking affection in places she knows she can't get them.

McQueen, who also directed the marvelous and extremely unsettling HUNGER directs this film with the same level of attention to detail and with the same verve of the construction of a scene. He also knows how to direct a scene that is so incredibly tense yet be somewhat innocent at the same time and this is best displayed with two scenes: the scene where Brandon discovers Sissy in his apartment in his shower fully nude and his eyes linger perhaps a little too long at her and yet she allows it rather than covering up with the towel immediately, suggesting there may have been something in their past that has been more than familial; also the scene in which Sissy sings a very torch-song rendition of "New York, New York", and the camera is close in on her face for most of the song, but cuts back to Fassbender, in obvious distress.

This film arguably doesn't require the NC-17 rating aside from the casual male nudity and a few very brief moments of graphic imagery, especially since other NC-17 or Unrated releases within recent memory have featured full, unsimulated sex, like many of the films of Catherine Brelliat, John Cameron Mitchell's brilliant SHORTBUS, or Michael Winterbottom's 9 SONGS, but this film actually wears that rating like a badge of honor. The sex and nudity within this film is certainly not meant to tittilate or excite or even to shock. It is there because it's a vital part of the story of this character. It's there because in order for us to understand, we have to experience on something of a similar and visceral level, and this film could honestly not exist without it. The sex and nudity of the film is not nearly as controversial as the actual subject matter is, and it doubtless will offend people, but the people it would offend really shouldn't be watching this film anyway.

Both Fassbender (who is arguably the hardest working actor in film over the last two years, and he's been the highlight of just about all of the films he's been in) and Mulligan give extraordinary performances, but it's without a doubt Fassbender's film. And it's a testament to the performers' courage to be actors known for their magnetism (no pun intended for Fassbender) and charisma to allow them to be shown at their least charismatic.

SHAME is a challenging, intelligent, and at times a terrifying film, and it's absolutely not a piece of art that anyone involved should be ashamed of.
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Shame - Rental Exclusive
Shame - Rental Exclusive by Steve McQueen (DVD)
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