Michael Fassbender’s eyes are intense. Give him a non-speaking role and he could still affect you in many ways. You can see through his eyes layers upon layers of emotions. Hell, you can even see through his soul. In 2011’s Shame, artist-turned-director Steve McQueen cast Fassbender in a role of a sex addict named Brandon, which won Fassbender numerous acting awards including the BAFTA.
Brandon keeps a shameful secret. He is a sex addict. Living alone in his sterile, immaculately clean New York apartment, his secret addiction to joyless sex with strangers is suddenly disrupted by his sister Sissy (Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan) who shows up unannounced to come live him. His privacy ruined, Brandon's frustration to get his next fix slowly eats him up until his sex addiction spirals out of control.
Fassbender has once again given a powerful performance, giving credence to his character's helplessness, loneliness, and despair, earning not your disgust but your sympathy. And McQueen has effectively portrayed Brandon’s heightening frustration and addiction, taking the viewer along with the increasingly dangerous frequency of Brandon’s sexual indulgences until he is out of control, made even more intense by the dramatic film score.
However, what is actually more shameful in this movie is not Brandon’s addiction, but the movie’s dialogue. Literally shocking. Not vulgar or obscene, but painfully cliché-ish, unbelievably shallow and trite that the lines do not match the gravity of the drama, and totally affecting the credibility of the scenes. If the dialogue were improvised, it did not work. At all. If McQueen wrote this, then he should never touch a pen or type a word for a movie ever again. If the script were written even by the likes of Rachael Ray, maybe it would have been better.
Carey Mulligan will surprise you in this film. In fact, the most memorable and compelling scenes in this film are with her in it; her performance raw and natural, mesmerizing in her emotional outbursts that she actually rivals Fassbender’s gift of acting. What a shame that she didn’t get nominated. It also helped that Brandon and Sissy’s most intimate arguments and conversations are shot from behind, the camera parked behind their backs, so that you become a voyeur, only catching that fleeting pained look from their side views, the quiet screaming between them, and that split second fall of tears. Ingenius.
Overall, Shame is a provocative story, a sad tale of a man controlled by something dangerous. It’s not a movie to sell sex nor an excuse for porn, but it's a painful and sincere portrayal of the tragic world of sex addicts. It’s just really a shame with the dialogue.
3 out of 5 stars
Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual scenes.