Shame – Review

Film: Shame (2011)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie

Directed by: Steve McQueen 

Produced by: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman

Written by: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan

Music by: Harry Escot

Running Time: 101 minutes

Rating: NC-17

A small indie film that got some attention toward the end of 2011 as much for its explicitness as its fine acting, Steve McQueen’s Shame is a consistently bleak character study that pulls no punches whatsoever.

Shame does not have much of a plot, but even though that might seem like a deficiency, it’s a key aspect that makes the film work. It is a character study of a man in his early-30s named Brandon (Michael Fassbender). Brandon is a sex addict, and that much is obvious from the very beginning. While some people doubt the legitimacy of sex addiction being a disease, McQueen and Fassbender make it plainly obvious that Brandon is not in good health.

Shame got some attention after it was stamped with the dubious NC-17 rating. There are indeed a handful of very explicit scenes, but McQueen doesn’t incorporate them just to give his audience cheap thrills. They hammer home the depth and severity of Brandon’s struggle. He derives no pleasure from any of his sexual actions. The only emotions we can infer from his facial expressions in these situations are sadness and shame (how about that?).

The film begins to pick up when Brandon’s sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), shows up at his New York apartment needing a place to stay. Brandon, a very private person, is not happy at all with this situation but grudgingly takes her in. It is implied that Brandon and Sissy experienced a horrific event in their childhood, but we never find out what it was. Nevertheless, there is a constant tension between them, mostly with the expectation that Brandon will explode at any moment.

It is his relationship with Sissy that reveals how little Brandon seems to care about other people. He isn’t outright nasty to everyone, but he is often cold and distant. Later, when he takes a woman (Nicole Beharie) out on a date, he seems to have a more upbeat attitude, as he perhaps hopes that he has found the beginning of a more meaningful relationship. However, this situation soon crumbles, notably as a result of Brandon’s failure with her sexually. His disease prevents him from being able to attain something that is more than superficial.

The reason Brandon has so much difficulty caring for others is because he cannot even care about himself in the first place, given his shame. It is only toward the end of the film, when a catastrophic situation arises, that we see some semblance of true compassion from Brandon. Is it enough for him to overcome his disease? That’s left for the viewer to decide.

Shame is a hard film to enjoy, as McQueen establishes an incessantly bleak and somber tone that is not dissimilar from many of the works of David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky. However, there is no denying the expertise with which the film is made, and its hard-hitting nature is difficult to forget. Fassbender also gives a powerhouse performance in a very daring role, and probably deserved an Oscar nomination for his work (he did not receive one but did get a Golden Globe nod). Mulligan’s performance, while easy to overlook, is also outstanding, as she effortlessly makes us aware of the pain her character experiences both because of the struggles in her private life and, more specifically, because of the strain of her tense relationship with her brother.

Overall, Shame is a pretty powerful character study with fine direction and top-notch acting. It’s certainly not an easy film to get through but it is without question one of the more compelling pictures of 2011.

Tommy D’s Score:





3.25/4 Tommy Ds

About Tommy D

Clemson and UGA alum with a market research job in LA. And I kind of like movies.

Posted on February 22, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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