To hear the audio version of Mark Elloff’s review which aired on WAMD 970 AM, click below.[audio:http://www.daggerpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2011-12-Shame-Radio-mono.mp3|titles=2011 12 Shame Radio (mono)]
Between the hype generated from the NC-17 rating, and from the second offering of director Steve McQueen, “Shame” had potential. Unfortunately, much of that potential is squandered as the film is focused more on being a piece of art than a story.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but feeds his desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. When his wayward younger sister (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment stirring memories of their shared painful past, Brandon’s insular life spirals out of control. (Synopsis by the Official Site)
The major flaw lies solely in the writing of the two main characters. Neither Brandon or his sister, Sissy, are particularly engaging. They are far too bleak to be likeable and too disconnected to be relatable. The film opens with a long series of shots displaying Brandon’s callous nature. Reminiscent of Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho,” the protagonist attacks the emptiness of being with a brutal mix of pornography and sex.
Enter Sissy, who breathes life into the film by playing the bubblier, yet equally flawed, opposite to Brandon. Her effects on Brandon are felt immediately when he is forced to adjust his perverted hermit lifestyle to accommodate her. The first bits of dialog in the film begin to flow at this point between the siblings. Bits of conversation are sparse, with the only true dialog coming in three longer sections of the film. Notably, these sections are easily the best, combining high tension with dramatic plot development. Depending on your tolerance for independent film this will be a point of contention or praise.
Dialog that should have worked by playing these sides off each other comes away as mostly banal. Both characters were born of a deep, painful event that is never addressed. Instead a cliché act of violence pushes Brandon over the edge to rediscover his humanity. While the film does manage to wrap up all the preceding threads at the end, it never resolves the issues it creates. The characters are left in a free fall with more tragedy in their wake.
The pacing of the film can be difficult at times. The first third feels overly long, with the sweeping visuals and sparse action. Sissy’s rendition of “New York, New York” is intolerably lengthy in the middle of the film. The writing eventually picks up speed, ending with more of a crash than a controlled skid.
Unfortunately this film is going to be compared to McQueen’s first film, “Hunger.” In many ways they are similar, but this is clearly the lesser of the two. His use of the actors’ ability to transcend the spoken word is commendable, but it does negatively affect the pacing of the film. McQueen should also be commended for going against popular opinion and releasing his film as an NC-17. Most directors would edit down to an R rating to increase circulation. While the NC-17 rating does provide a bit of notoriety, the overall goal was to make an artistic film. In this he succeeds and, at worst, it will make you look forward to McQueen’s future projects.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: Rent it. The film does earn its NC-17 rating, but that intrigue is not worth the ticket price.
TWO AND A HALF STARS out of four.
Directed by Steve McQueen (III). Written by Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen (III).
Rated NC-17 for some explicit sexual content.
Runtime: 1 hour and 39 minutes