[Screen It]


(2011) (Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan) (NC-17)

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Drama: A man's routine of dealing with his sexual addiction is thrown off kilter when his troubled sister arrives and stays at his New York City apartment.
On the surface, Brandon Sullivan (MICHAEL FASSBENDER) looks like any other man. He's handsome, has what appears to be a good corporate job working for his bar hopping boss and friend, David (JAMES BADGE DALE), and has no problem charming the ladies. But he's secretly a sex addict, obsessed with porn and sexual satisfaction, be that by himself or with strangers he meets for one-night stands.

Other than his work computer needing a cleaning due to porn viewing related issues, Brandon has managed to keep his addiction and his daily need to satisfy his related wants and desires secret from everyone. But that is thrown off kilter upon the arrival of his somewhat estranged sister, Sissy (CAREY MULLIGAN), a singer who unexpectedly shows up and decides to stay at his New York City apartment for an unknown duration.

With his routine interrupted, Brandon tries to deal with his addiction, his newfound interest in coworker Marianne (NICOLE BEHARIE), and his continued rocky relationship with Sissy.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Don't you just love the "victim society" we've become? Yes, there are true victims of all sorts of bad and nasty acts in life, from physical assault to robbery, identity theft, affairs and much more. I'm talking about the perpetrators who try to pass the buck on whatever their wrongdoing might be by saying they're actually the victim. You know, something happened in their past, or some current or recent societal norms have somehow lead to their recent bad (or illegal) behavior.

In the past few years this has really come to the forefront in terms of public figures (politicians, movie or TV stars, recording artists, etc.) who have metaphorically been caught with their pants down while having an affair. Back in the old days, that was simply known as cheating. Nowadays, it's all due to being a "sex addict."

Debate still rages on about whether such an addiction really exists, especially in terms of actual chemical changes as compared to what alcohol, drugs, nicotine and such do to one's body to create a physical (rather than mental) need for more. There's no doubt some men (and even women) are obsessed with pornography, but considering humans are pre-programmed to desire sex (in order to procreate and continue the species), the matter of whether it's a true addiction is still up in the air.

Director Steve McQueen (no, not the long dead star of "Bullit" and "The Great Escape," but rather the 42-year-old British director of the little seen 2008 film, "Hunger") doesn't delve into any such debate, research or such on the matter in "Shame." Instead, he simply focuses on a man (Michael Fassbender) who's certainly obsessed with the act, be that by himself, with the accompaniment of porn, or in the company of coworkers, strangers or paid prostitutes.

Granted, non-human males in the animal world are also obsessed with mating, and will fight to the death with competitors in order to have access to the females of their species. Fassbender's character doesn't go to that extreme, but he certainly seeks out sex whenever and wherever he can find and get it. Accordingly, he's always on the prowl when not making pit stops into the bathroom at work and home to pleasure himself.

His routine is thrown off kilter when his somewhat estranged sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives from who knows where (she states the last city she was in was Los Angeles) to stay with him in his New York City apartment. Like him, she's also a damaged soul (albeit not sexually), and they have a strained sibling relationship. McQueen and co-screenwriter Abi Morgan introduce and hint at the underlying causes of such issues, but never address them in any sort of revelatory or satisfactory way.

I'm all for "gray" in terms of storytelling and keeping certain things nebulous enough to engage the viewer, but the filmmakers leave too much hanging here. Yes, I understand that the characters are tormented by their inner demons and unknown (to us) past. And I'm guessing many a film critic will like just that, and the sense of all that turmoil bubbling just below the surface.

For me, it eventually came off as too superficial and occasionally pretentious. As a result, and to make matters worse, I didn't care about the characters (despite Mulligan delivering a somewhat chilling and extremely slow-downed and soulful version of "New York, New York" during her one and only singing performance scene) or how things eventually played out.

I appreciate that McQueen doesn't over-direct or edit his work, and that more simplified approach clearly lets his performers do their thing. And he interestingly -- and ultimately wisely -- never allows any of the sexual acts or full-out nudity to turn erotic. Instead, they're just present as cogs of his character's addiction, and much like a drug addict or alcoholic, they're only momentarily satisfying and never fulfilling.

Fassbender is good depicting all of that, but I don't think the work is Oscar caliber as some have been stating. I understand it's not a showy part (notwithstanding the nudity and vigorous copulating) and the actor creates a compelling if sad character with what he's been given to work with. I just wish his and Mulligan's characters and their back-story had been fleshed out a tad more to make us care about them.

Certainly not for all audiences, "Shame" thankfully doesn't go the "victim society" route, even if its characters are tormented by barely touched upon issues from their past. Had I cared more about them, the offering might have affected me in some greater way. As it stands, I was fairly bored once I realized nothing was ultimately going to happen. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 28, 2011 / Posted December 2, 2011

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