I get what Shame is supposed to be: an artsy, independent film by an up-and-coming hot director (Steve McQueen) with not-yet superstar actors in gritty roles (Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan), using little dialogue to tell the story of sexual depravity and its effects on one man, and the people around him.
And it does many of these things perfectly, some not so much.
Shame is beautifully shot and tremendously acted. Fassbender is fantastic as Brandon, the sex addict who manages to hide his problems behind his pretty normal life. He is balanced by Mulligan, who has proven herself time and again to be a wonderful actress. She takes on the role of Brandon’s troubled and needy sister, who comes into town and exposes his sexual weakness, forcing him to deal with things one way or another.
There are some uncomfortable scenes in the movie, ones that are odd or difficult to watch, which helps in bringing us into the strange world of Brandon. An example of this is when Mulligan first shows up, and Brandon finds her in the shower. The proceed to have a conversation for a few minutes, with Mulligan completely naked, chatting with her brother. While the scene is odd, and one would assume people don’t want to be standing in a room with their completely naked sister, we see something in Brandon here that takes him from being a guy who enjoys sex, to one who has some serious issues.
The climactic scene of the film is brilliant, and manages to bring all of the disturbing aspects of the story together: it is a scene filled with depravity, desire, hate, lust, need, and desperation, and one that takes Shame from being pretty good, to borderline brilliant. As a climax should do, it is that watershed moment for Brandon, when things need to change, to see the life that he has created, and the problem with how things have been going for him, and those around him.
Like so many independent films, the pacing and dialogue is purposefully slow. It is not a chatty film, and we are provided with many long shots that help establish the perceived normalcy of Brandon’s life. If you think of the pacing of a film like Lost in Translation, you are on the right track. But it never feels as though it is too slow, because the shots being used are always beautiful, in their own subtle ways.
I can’t say that I know a ton about Michael Fassbender, aside from the fact that he was in a couple of X-Men movies. He truly throws himself into this role, being able to pull off the suave Brandon with his darker side. He is hurt and confused by his needs, and this comes across on the screen. He is not just another handsome actor who decided that he needs to be in a movie where he shows off his full frontal goods, he plays the role to perfection. He is defensive and confused, which helps to make Brandon so realistic.
His counterpart, sister Sissy, demonstrates the same kind of real hurt in her role. Mulligan plays it off perfectly, in a needy, demure way. Her singing scene is quite memorable, and she is able to work the role of the messed up younger sister incredibly well. She is manipulative, yet able to see her brother for who he truly is, and pushes him in the direction to do something about it.
Shame is a strong film, even if it is not an easy one to watch all the time. There are awkward moments, and graphic sexual moments, and tons of nudity. There is very little levity in the film, but it works because the topic is dark, so why not have the film about it be dark as well?
Buoyed by the acting, Shame is taken from a pretty average film to one that is incredibly strong. Worth checking out, to see the great performances by two excellent actors.