The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review: Shame (UK cert 18)

Critics do like to use the term ‘brave’ when it comes to certain types of roles, usually anything involving full-frontal nudity or sex. Unsurprisingly, this appellation has been applied liberally in other reviews of Shame, a cheerful little film about sex addiction.

Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a thirtysomething executive living in New York . He’s also a sex addict; watching online porn at work, hiring hookers and even not averse to a bit of man-on-man action to scratch the itch. His lifestyle leaves little room for emotional intimacy, preferring as he does to opt for the physical kind. Into his carefully controlled life comes his chaotic sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), an aspiring jazz singer, who throws things on their heads.

There’s been a lot of fuss over the fact that Michael Fassbender has some full-frontal scenes, thus showing that the age-old hypocrisy around nudity (female nudity, fine; male nudity, not) is still alive and well. It is, however, entirely appropriate in the context of the film; put the physical on display, keep the emotional hidden.

And that’s my main problem with Shame. There’s precious little intimation of the root causes of Brandon’s addiction (some allusions to a fractured childhood are dropped in), only the effect of it. But even that’s not fully explored. A dinner date with his colleague Marianne (Nicole Behari) hints at Brandon’s mindset- why tie yourself to one person for life? - but nothing more is developed.  Their fumbling sexual encounter leads Brandon to momentary impotence; she’s got too close for comfort. However, one prostitute later and he’s back on track.

It’s a powerful performance by Michael Fassbender even if the script doesn’t always serve him well. He’s unable to really get to the heart of the character because there is not much heart to get to. Nonetheless, it’s another strong performance to add to his already impressive roster.  Carey Mulligan’s performance is similarly impressive, but again there’s little development or explanation for her emotional neediness. That said, her story arc is more rounded and she gives a cool jazzy rendition of ‘New York, New York’. Her chemistry with Fassbender is undeniable, lending their scenes together (particularly the pivotal argument scene towards the end) some much-needed crackle.

It’s true that I have been thinking about the film since I saw it; in fact, I’ve been wondering exactly what I’m meant to have taken from it. It certainly doesn’t glamorise sex addiction; Brandon rarely looks fulfilled or content when he’s in flagrante and a traumatic twist at the end hints at some kind of rehabilitation, but my main feeling about this film is that it’s much ado about nothing.

A couple in front of me quipped at the end ‘it’s a Shame we sat through that’. I wouldn’t go that far; it’s worth seeing for the strong performances of Fassbender and Mulligan, two actors for whom I have a lot of respect. But the script does let it down.

Rating: 3 out of 5


No comments:

Post a Comment