“Shame” (2011) Movie Review
For those of you who have heard about “Shame”, you may have heard it is a film about sex. Interest in the film through word-of-mouth spread was largely based on two things, the films graphic sex scenes and Michael Fassbender’s man parts. Based on this alone, the film sounds shallow. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather than be about sex, “Shame” is a harrowing view into the life of an addict and his estranged sister. I will warn though, that the film earns its NC-17 rating, but it is not for shock value.
I will start by saying that the plot in “Shame” is simple at first glance, but as it progresses, slowly peels away its layer to reveal a surprising amount of depth. The characters are extremely well-developed, with actions that feel authentic and fit right into their personalities. Few films manage to capture interactions that seem natural and realistic, yet every scene flows so well and, through the actors performances, manages to bring the viewer deeper into Brandon’s life.
As the film progresses, you are drawn further into Brandon’s addiction and his relationship with his sister. “Shame” accomplishes the task of making the viewer emotionally connect with its characters, causing you to feel Brandon’s misery as his addiction begins to slowly derail his life and relationships. This works so well due to the fact that Brandon is not really a “bad” person, per se (and the ambiguity regarding Brandon and Sissy’s troubled past is another of the film’s strengths). He is one of those tragic characters that so desperately want to connect with someone, anyone, but is held back by one disgraceful part of him that has taken hold of his life. By the end of the film, you are as desperate as Brandon to see him finally experience some happiness. Without spoiling anything, however, I will say that this story is wholly bleak and tragic (not since “Requiem for a Dream”, another film involving addictions, have I seen such a hopeless story). Yet, overall, the plot is so well-constructed and draws the viewer in so well that I can only describe it as outstanding, seriously tackling subject matter that is normally left for comedies.
Moving on, away from the gloomy subject of plot, I must mention the acting in the film. Michael Fassbender delivers a superb, award-winning performance as Brandon. The role required a lot of its actor, and after seeing the film, I could not imagine anyone giving a better performance than Fassbender. The rest of the cast is admirable and does an incredible job making every scene believable and natural, yet Fassbender just outshines all of them. As much as I enjoyed “The Artist”, it is an absolute shame (see what I did there) that Fassbender was not nominated at last year’s Academy Awards for a performance that was far above Jean Dujardin’s (not to mention the film was not nominated for any Academy Awards – a major snub).
In “Shame”, there is also some very adept writing to enhance the plot and allow the cast to so perfectly capture their characters. Each scene is dripping with perfectly-written dialogue that suits Brandon’s psyche, with many words and phrases having the ability to be taken simply as they are, or in the context of Brandon’s addiction. This adds another layer to help the viewer become more connected with Brandon.
Lastly, a quick note to mention the cinematography and soundtrack for the film are both excellent as well. The camera work is great at capturing the fragile nature of Brandon’s hidden addiction, and some tracking shots (in particular on running scene) are phenomenal – not to mention the opening sequence is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Steve McQueen does a wonderful job at capturing each character’s emotions through some close-ups of the cast’s faces (from Brandon’s internal thoughts on the subway to his depressing expressions while indulging in his addiction) and long, uninterrupted shots that allow the cast to really shine. Also, the soundtrack is not a constant presence, but at various points the mix from classical Bach piano pieces to a quite depressing rendition of “New York, New York” set the mood nicely.
In the end, “Shame” is an incredible accomplishment of both acting and filmmaking. There are one or two sections that drag a bit, but they don’t bring the overall film down at all. The plot is a wonderfully executed, skillfully covering the theme of addiction, and fully absorbing the audience in its characters. A career-defining performance by Michael Fassbender further enhances this film’s emotional impact. If you are a cautious movie-goer, you may want to avoid this film, but for those that can stand a graphic, somber depiction of addiction and the human response, be prepared for an absolutely masterful film experience.
Final Score: 9.6/10