Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Duration: 101 min.
Brandon is a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but feeds his desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. His insular life spirals out of control when his wayward younger sister Sissy moves into his apartment, stirring memories of their shared painful past.
Shame is a film directed by Steve McQueen, co-written with screenwriter Abi Morgan. It premiered at the 2011 Venice International Film Festival winning the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Film, and the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.
McQueen follows up his critically acclaimed 2008 debut Hunger, with an astounding portrait of a compulsive sex addict whose self destructive routine is shaken up by the arrival of his depressed younger sister. Brandon, played to perfection by Michael Fassbender in what is quickly becoming one of the great actor/director pairings of our time, spends his days and nights joylessly seeking ways to feed his ever present urges.
At first he doesn't seem to be much different than the average young urban executive, he sleeps around and his 'hard drive is filthy', but that in itself isn't unusual—as someone who used to work on corporate PC's daily, let me tell you, porn filled workstations are more common than you would think—what is remarkable is the way the film very slowly and carefully reveals that maybe this guy isn't living the dream.
McQueen who has a background in visual arts, once again displays a talent for crafting captivating and memorable images from mundane moments. Long contemplative takes are abundant, including a series of outstanding tracking shots. He also demonstrates some restraint here, although controversially branded with a NC-17 rating, this film really isn't very explicit, is far from erotic, and never comes close to matching the highly shocking nature of his debut.
Fassbender as we've lately come to expect, is entirely brilliant and convincing in his role. The extremely minimal script, intentionally short on details and dialog actually give him very little to work with, but he completely brings the character to life, his publicly cool and confident exterior never betraying the privately consumed and troubled individual within. That is until his comfort zone is disturbed by his younger sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan who I've always been impressed with up until this point, but is unfortunately the weakest link in this picture.
She shows up unannounced but not totally unexpected, and is the polar opposite of Brandon. While he is cold and detached, she is unstable and hyper emotional. A little too much so. There is an early scene where we hear her crying over the phone from the next room, and she sounds so overblown that I honestly thought her character was an actress practicing lines for a soap opera until the camera panned over to show that her hysterics were real. Additionally there are several instances where her accent noticeably slips in and out.
The other glaring issue I had was with the sequence of her singing in the upscale bar. Perhaps this is more the director's fault and not Mulligan's because her vocal talents though far from amazing were pleasant enough, but what I didn't buy was that type of New York crowd putting down their drinks and stopping all of their conversations for several minutes in order to attentively listen to essentially a nobody lounge singer. I think even someone with a voice like Adele would be hard pressed to pull that off.
So there are some distracting missteps, it withholds most of the details, and it doesn't push the envelope as much as I expected, but that's not enough to ruin the film. Shame is still a visually stunning, emotionally intense, and painfully accurate study of a character overcome by loneliness and addiction from one of the most interesting filmmakers working today.
— Bonjour Tristesse