Movie Review – Shame (2011)

Shame

By Nathan Peterson

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

Intensity, thy name is Fassbender…..

Over the last couple of years, Michael Fassbender’s star has continued to rise, and his work has ranged from cheating husband to magnetic mutant to cold android.  In last year’s film, Shame, he plays Brandon, an outwardly well-adjusted and succesful businessman, who is struggling to cope with his addiction to sex.

The film follows Brandon as he tries to deal with both sides of his life, trying to juggle them so that they do not crash together.  Matters are made difficult when his sister (Mulligan) unexpectedly comes to stay, and get’s sexually involved with his boss.

This film, directed by Steve McQueen (obviously not that one), got alot of buzz on the festival scene, mainly due to it’s intoxicating nature, and the scenes of explicit sex.  Given the story and those naughty scenes it is easy see why this might stand out in a crowd.  So, was this a “one-trick pony” or is it a film that deserves to be judged on its merits?  Well that is a difficult question to answer. 

On the one hand, it has two very powerfully intense performances from Fassbender and Mulligan.  Both are enjoying fine careers, and I fully expect these two to continue the strong work they have done to date.  The chemistry between them is great, so much so that at first it was difficult to determine the relationship between them.  I also have to say that their respective attempts at American accents are fairly convincing (although I will leave it to my friends in the US to truly judge this), especially Fassbender’s.

In addition, McQueen directs the whole thing beautifully, doing everything he can to pull the viewer into the story.  Some of the scenes are of exceptional note, using simple but effective techniques.  For example the opening ten minutes where Fassbender is riding the train, watching a young lady ahead of him, all the while flashing back to various scenes of his sexual conquests, succeeds in being one of the more erotic parts of the film.  This use of the past and present, with hardly any dialogue, and using suggestive imagery, creates one of the more interesting and creative openings to a film I have seen in quite some time.

Also, the score deserves a mention.  Usually I don’t pay too much attention to the music of the film, as often I find it annoying and it can distract me from the story, although there are times where it stands out and I can respect how the film makers have taken the time to find the right music to ensure a certain reaction from the crowd.  Shame is one such movie, where it feels like the music (and at time even the lack thereof) is almost an extra member of the cast, with each piece fitting perfectly into the story.

So with all these positives, how can I even question whether this is a good film?  Well, for me whilst the acting, directing and scoring were all of the highest order, this just wasn’t a film I enjoyed.  Provocative to say the least, the story is a little thin at times, not really progressing until the very end and ultimately it ended in a rather vague and unsatisfying conclusion (perhaps a metaphor for his sex life?).

Furthermore, at a modest 1 hour 40 minutes, one would expect this to be a reasonably easy films to watch, however the pacing was to slow to really engage me at any time, and made this feel almost twice as long.  Scenes such as Brandon jogging for nearly 5 minutes left me wondering what I was watching, and when Carey Mulligan sung her mesmerizing version of New York, New York I was actually got out my phone to check Facebook.  Whilst exquisite, the scene was a little too long, and came at a time when I had hoped the story might liven up, only for my dreams to be dashed again.

So you see my quandary.  There are alot of positives to be gained from the film, but unless you are a big fan of artistic movies, this is one that will be difficult to fully enjoy.  My thoughts are that if you were to strip away the controversial imagery and just tell this tale without it, the film would not have had nearly as much interest from critics.  I do appreciate it for what it is, but I would only ever recommend it with a warning.

BTW – It has a lot of Fassbender’s member!

Rating 3 out of 5

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