Film Review: Shame (2011)

on Wednesday, February 08, 2012
'Shame' (UK Release: 13 Jan '12) // Words: Saam Das

2008 saw Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen's debut feature film 'Hunger', establishing Michael Fassbender as an actor of considerable note. McQueen, too, received plaudits for his handling of the retelling of the IRA's 1981 hunger strike. The duo have once again come together in 'Shame', McQueen's second feature, a sex addiction melodrama. Unfortunately, much like 'Hunger', this latest effort is emotionally hollow.

Fassbender stars as Brandon, a highly successful New York businessman, whose sexual compulsions haunt him on a daily basis. His world is dominated by his needs, and brought into disarray by the appearance of his dependent sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan).

Brandon's relationship with Sissy is a frustrating one, not just for the duo but for the audience. Indeed, the whole film simmers along without delivering much of an emotional resonance. This is highlighted particularly in the scene where Sissy sings 'New York, New York' - driving Brandon to tears, and the audience to pained boredom. Complete with awkward close-up.

One of the few talking points of interest is McQueen's use of full frontal nudity - Fassbender happily wanders around his apartment with his (impressive) endowment on offer, and the first time we meet Sissy - she is sans clothes. The latter perhaps has an important storytelling component, showing the closeness between her and Brandon despite their otherwise apparent distance. The "Fassboner" seems less necessary, albeit impressive for other reasons.

The full frontal nudity led to 'Shame' receiving the dreaded NC-17 rating in the US - the equivalent to an 18 in the UK, but with added connotations - only a handful of films are released every year with such a rating. While the film is somewhat forgettable, the lasting legacy of 'Shame' may be to finally re-introduce the NC-17 rating to respectability - allowing directors to fulfil, and not compromise, their visions.

The shining highlight of 'Shame' is undoubtedly Fassbender. His work is supreme considering his role is not dialogue-heavy. Brandon's inner battle is made captivating almost solely through Fassbender's expressions. McQueen does succeed in stressing Brandon's struggles with intimacy but, of course, Fassbender is at the heart of each of these moments. Perhaps third time will be a charm for the duo.

★★½ (out of five)

'Shame' is showing in selected cinemas across the UK now.

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