Movie Review – Shame

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Movie Review – Shame

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steve McQueen

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carrie Mulligan

Year: 2011

I’m a big fan of Steve McQueen’s work: Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave, Widows. That’s his complete filmography in 10 years, except for a ton of shorts, and I really respect that he puts time into his projects, time to get them right and deliver them the way he envisioned. And he likes Michael Fassbender, casts him regularly, which is genius in my book, since Fass in one of a goddam kind. Shame was the only McQueen movie I hadn’t seen, so I was prepared to like it as much as the others, even more perhaps, since it was so provocative and pushy, and that sounded like something I would enjoy. But I was disappointed when it was nothing revelatory at all, just a recycling of old ideas and an overuse of sex, a film that felt forced from the very beginning and never found any traction along the way.

Brandon, an Irish-born New Yorker, lives alone, works hard, plays harder, makes money, and spends it on hookers. Sex is something he controls and obsesses about, hiring call girls, masturbating in the men’s room, and screwing strangers, all as acts of compulsion, not pleasure. He can’t create real relationships, he wouldn’t even know how to start, and feels much safer, if severely depressed, watching porn alone in his luxury apartment. When his sister, a lounge singer, crashes at his pad after a bad breakup, his routines and fetishes are disrupted enough to send him spiraling even further down the rabbit hole. She’s spiraling as well and needs his help, but he’s in no position to give it, as he can’t even make it through the day without doing something he finds filthy and detestable and sad.

Yeah, that’s the gist of it, and it’s about as low as you can go. I’m fine with heavy plots, but this is a weighty one, a story that will sink you down to the bottom as you drown along with the main character. Brandon is messed up, unhappy, and it’s not even the weird ways he gets off that are upsetting, it’s how disconnected from feeling anything that he’s made himself, that’s the real bummer. Fassbender plays the part well, Mulligan steps in nicely too, they aren’t the problem; the trouble is that McQueen let loose a virus and never could rein it safely back in. The sex is ridiculously over-the-top, to the point that you lose focus on the reason it’s so prevalent, the reason why it’s a staple of the film. It’s simply freed wildly without control, from watching Brandon pee to watching a random woman hook up her bra. And that’s the next big problem; the unnecessarily long delays. I get what McQueen was going for, but the shots lasted forever and showed us nothing, and I just wanted to turn the TV off by the end of most of them. Shame is full of big ideas and high drama, but it feels forced and old and not special, making little impact when it was obviously trying to be an NC-17 spectacle that got everyone talking. It failed in that regard, simply because it ran amok through hell instead of giving us small tastes, and we can only take so much.

My rating: ☆ ☆