Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shame (2011)

Shame (2011)

Genre: Drama
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Language: English
Duration: 101 min.
Rating: 7.8  

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.

Shame (2011)

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.

Shame (2011)

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

Shame (2011)

Shame (2011)

Shame (2011)

Shame (2011)

Shame (2011)

Shame (2011)

Shame (2011)

Shame (2011)


FrontRoomCinema said...

I think I loved this a little more than you did. In fact the second time I saw it last year I was left speechless by its beauty and deft character study of the siblings.

Jessica said...

The community seems to be split on the issue of the singing scene. I wasn't a fan of it either. It was waaaayyy to long. I got itchy and bored after a while.
But that aside I thought Shame was brilliant and Fassbender's performance one of the absolutely best I saw in 2011, possibly THE best. He can convey a world with just a twitch in a muscle. Amazing.

The Angry Lurker said...

This is one I need to see as I like Fassbender.

Jason said...

I liked the way that the film withheld a lot of the information and used the actos/set design to show Brandon's inner turmoil and shame. Fassbender's performance should have taken the major acting awards this year. It's a shame (sorry) you didn't like Carrie Mulligan's performance. I felt the brother-sister relationship was part of the emotional core of the film and allowed us a greater insight into Brandon's problems. That and I find that Carrie Mulligan is a genuinely great presence.

Corporate PCs are genuinely as filthy as Brandon's? You'd think that using company property that can be taken away or monitored would be a major no-no. I guess nobody has any Shame (sorry) these days.

Margaret said...

Good review! I liked Mulligan and thought Shame is her best work. Her character wasn't as well written as Brandon's but she made wonders with it and really made me feel for Sissy.

Pete said...

I think I just read a review that didn't mention the size of Fassy's dinkle.  Impressive stuff!

Steven Flores said...

I really loved Carey Mulligan's performance.  She is so bratty but I felt for her because she is aware that she's fucked up.  Obviously, she's there to push her brother's buttons where it's clear he's having a problem but is in total denial.  It's definitely among my favorite films of 2011.

Guest said...

Yeah I've heard of this.. was never really convinced. I'm still not, but I do want to see Fassbender's performance. 

Shala said...

Hi. New reader! I think I also loved this more than you did. I thought the film was brilliant, disturbing, sad, beautiful, and profound. I really liked the singing scene and I think it served a real purpose in the film that embodied these two characters that seemed to be running away from their past in NJ to NYC (though we never learn exactly what happened in their past) but can never can escape their demons. It was a beautiful moment for me. It didn't need to be perfect or Adele-like. To me, it mirrored their imperfections. 


G said...

sounds like an interesting film...

Dan O'Neill said...

Closing with a cleverly inverted sense of ambiguity, Shame is an effective film both performance-wise and from a technical standpoint. Fassbender is also perfect in this role and I really do hope he at least gets a nomination for an Oscar. Good review.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah I think I will have to give this another viewing at some point.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I'm glad you agree with me there, although I didn't mind the length so much as the crowd's reaction. I don't think you can hear a single clinking glass or hushed voice in the background and it's just not believable. People in bars like that are never so attentive to the music. Sure if that was your sister or friend up there singing, but for a stranger I don't think so.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I did appreciate the sibling relationship, and thought that was well written, and I normally love Carey in everything I've seen her in, but for some reason she didn't convince me here. I may have to give this another viewing because it seems like everyone else loved her performance.

To be fair I've not actually worked in a massive corporation with thousands of employees, but I've repaired machines for mid sized and small businesses including  lawyers, accountants, professors, and all kinds of executives, and some hide it better than others but the one thing they seem to have in common is porn. It's not the majority, but enough for me not to be surprised when encountering it.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

 Thank you Margaret. It seems my opinion of her is not a popular one.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Haha thanks Pete. I don't see what the fuss was all about, I guess it's not something you see very often in American films, but those scenes really had nothing to do with anything, so to me it really isn't worth mentioning in a review.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I didn't so much mind the whiny clingy character, and I did love how she aggravated the situation, but I guess she just didn't come across as entirely real to me.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Do see it. He does deliver perhaps the best acting performance of 2011.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

 Welcome Shala! and thanks for taking the time to comment

I agree that the singing scene was a beautiful moment, my issue with it has more to do with the audiences reaction, rather than Brandon's. It just made me think 'yeah right' and lessened the impact for me.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yes that ending was a nice touch. Is it a reversal of roles? are we seeing the cycle beginning again, or is it the end of the line?

As for Fassbender, he deserved a nomination for sure, but I'm positive he will get one sooner or later.

Movie Ramble said...

film was about addiction and not about sex and was a particularly challenging
watch, being both disturbing and graphically realistic. I was impressed with
the acting from both our leads particularly Carey Mulligan who really came of
age in this movie with Fassbender giving a great portrait of a self loathing man
that was trapped inside himself. The cinematography by Sean Bobbitt (Hunger) was brilliantly executed with
some exceptional long shots including Brandon’s midnight run across Manhattan
from the East River along 28th Street in a single shot of
extraordinary beauty. McQueen is a very clever director that encourages us to
connect with the characters by drawing inferences from the clues he assembles, acknowledging
the intelligence of the audience unlike many films. Coming away from the
theatre I was unsure about this film with it’s depiction of joyless sex and its
lack of humour, but on reflection I believe this to be a benchmark in British
film making and can’t understand why it has not been nominated in this years
Academy Awards?

Eric said...

This is one of those movies where I thought it was terrific, but it's not one that I would want to see again anytime soon. Just too dark and depressing, even with a phenomenal performance from Fassbender.

Lisa Thatcher said...

I really hate it when Hollywood take on subject matter like this.  I was intellectually repulsed by the concept of the film.  The fact that you enjoyed it is the only thing that has made me mildly curious. The trailers are appalling. Honestly, I see more truth in Russell Brand making jokes about sex addiction than I see any hope for in this film.
Hollywood glamorises topics like this with this - "oh?  Didn't you know sex addiction has a dark side?" kind of approach.  They do it with so many 'sexy' (pardon the pun) topics.  One that instantly comes to mind is Philadelphia - 'Oh?  Didn't know you Aids victims are unfairly victimised?'  Its patronising and reductionist and my most despised of all attempts at film making. 
Then I read in the comments below that people have been going on about MF penis size!
I rest my case!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

First of all, thanks for visiting and commenting.

The film was primarily about addiction, and it is a very realistic portrayal of it. However I'm pretty sure if this was another story about an alcoholic, gambler, or junkie it wouldn't get a tenth of the attention it did.

Also a small correction, that cool running scene actually takes place on 31st street, starting just west of 5th avenue and ending at 7th.

But I do agree that at least Fassbender should have been nominated at this year's Oscars.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah, both of McQueen's films have that effect on you.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Haha, I understand your reservations, but I think you might be unfairly judging this one by it's cover. Despite the cast, setting, and how it's been marketed, this really isn't a 'Hollywood film' at all.

I do think the director is a bit of a pretentious controversy hound, but he does have a strong visual sense and an unique way of telling a story.

365 moviesandsongs365 said...

I gave
Shame 7.6 in my monthly recap. I didn’t know McQueen had that background in
visual arts. Good point about the cinematography, which seems to symbolize
Brandon’s detached state of mind. It’s an unusual approach that we empathize
with a character who is so cold. What is to blame for his and his sister’s
behavior gives the story an ambiguous dimension I think. Much is left
unsaid.   Good review BT

Diana said...

One of my favorites of 2011 (although I saw it in very early 2012)- I love McQueen's style (Hunger is another amazing movie) and I thought Fassbender's performance was Oscar worthy, but I guess it was too much for the prude Academy voters. Great review!

Lisa Thatcher said...

YOUR approbation means everything and is the only plus this film has for me. I have so many problems with this. Why did they use MF?  Brad Pitt wasn't available?  Why not John C Reiley?  Or much much better, Ray Winstone who would have turned this into something incredible! (and far more accurate)

I'm not saying MF isn't a good actor, I'm saying why does the protagonist have to be a beautiful man?  That is the start of the disrespect for me, and tells me they want to use the subject matter for titillation, or because of an assumption of stupidity in their audience. 
I hate being right about this - but I SO trust my gut. 
But your positive opinion is this films first tick on the plus side.
Thanks for letting me get passionate (have an annoying rant) on your blog!  You are my host and that was a bit OTT from me. 
But still - grrrrrrrrr......
(smiles sweetly)

Shala said...

I didn't have a problem with it.  I kind of sat up and took noticed of it - this beautiful girl in a flashy dress obviously singing her heart out - I don't think its a far stretch to think the audience there wouldn't do the same thing.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

You know that's a good point. I agree it would have been much more brave, I don't know if that's the right word to use, maybe challenging, to cast an everyman in the main role. I would add Paul Giamatti to your list.

But I also think in this case, Fassbender and McQueen already had an established and successful working relationship, and that probably had more to do with the casting decision than simply his looks.

Also, feel free to rant away anytime, I don't mind at all.

Lisa Thatcher said...

You are extremely generous.
Like I said - your good opinion does genuinely sway me.  The film looks horribly prudish to me and it may take me quite a few years before I can see it baggage-free.
But (believe it or not) you have softened me toward it.   :)

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