Review: 'Shame'

By Heather Leszczewicz TGK Correspondent "Are you serious?" the woman in front of me in line balks as the cashier asks to see h...

By Heather Leszczewicz
TGK Correspondent

"Are you serious?" the woman in front of me in line balks as the cashier asks to see her ID. "I can see you carding someone like her," she says motioning to me.

I laugh. The woman is obviously older than 18, probably closer to 80, but the theater is really serious about adhering to the NC-17 standards. As I walked into the building, there's a sign explaining all the rules for attending an NC-17 movie. There's another one in the bathroom. I get carded while buying my ticket. And the ticket taker tells me I absolutely have to keep my ticket on me at all times.

Looking around at the audience settling in with me for "Shame," I am the youngest person in the audience. The 30-somethings in front of me are probably the closest to my age while the rest of the crowd averages 50 and older. Then again, I didn't expect a bunch of teenagers with fake IDs trying to see this film.

"Shame" revolves around Brandon Sullivan (played Michael Fassbender), a successful New Yorker with a thing for porn, prostitutes and pleasuring himself. In short, he's a sex addict. But that's a side he keeps secret from everyone around him. His world is thrown into a tailspin when his self-destructive sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), moves in with him. She can drive him to tears one moment and then all out rage the next.

An NC-17 film is a rare occurrence; moviemakers typically try and appeal to get the R rating — like "Blue Valentine" earlier this year — or they'll edit the film.

So let's get the obvious question out of the way: within the first few minutes of "Shame," there is full-frontal nudity by Fassbender. It's not gratuitous. I didn't really think the rating was warranted until the movie started to delve deeper into Brandon's addiction.

By the end, absolutely, this is an explicit film. But it's not as if director/writer Steven McQueen was thinking, "I want to throw a whole bunch of nudity in just because there hasn't been some in the last 10 minutes." This is a raw and powerful look into the life of a man who has a certain affliction. This is how Brandon goes about his day. This is how he copes with his life.

Fassbender gives an amazing performance. He burst onto the scene in a big way this year, and he makes quite an impression here. As Brandon, he takes goes from smarmy, to vulnerable, to suave, to desperate, to extremely angry, to hearbreaking. Fassbender created layers for this character. It's really hard to tell whether or not Brandon is likeable or not. You sort of feel for him though.

McQueen keeps "Shame" a bit gritty, going for handheld cameras, tight shots and dark lighting. He's also appears to be a minimalist, or he makes Brandon out that way. One of the best shots of the film follows Brandon as he tries to de-stress on a run. In a fluid take, the camera follows Brandon as he takes to the street. It's a simple shot, but somehow breathtaking.

I think my only problem with the film is the lingering question of why should I care? But, then again, that is sometimes the question with which I leave films that tend to be more real life, versus fiction. The audience sees a part of this character's life; there's no real peak or end-goal. This is a movie where, after the end credits roll, it's easy to picture the characters going on with their lives like normal. While other movies end with a bang, a death or success, we see the conclusion of those characters' immediate stories.

Plenty of people will see "Shame" out of morbid curiosity or just to say they saw it. It's another thing to appreciate it for more than the rating. Could there be more people like Brandon in your own life? Hard not to wonder.

NC-17.

/ 5

Official trailer:

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The Gold Knight - Latest Academy Awards news, predictions and insight: Review: 'Shame'
Review: 'Shame'
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The Gold Knight - Latest Academy Awards news, predictions and insight
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