Hard-hitting drama from director Steve McQueen (Hunger). Brandon's (Michael Fassbender) carefully cultivated sex addiction is interrupted by the unannounced arrival of his sister (Carey Mulligan). Now playing nationwide, click for movie times and trailer.
Steve McQueen’s debut feature Hunger, about the harrowing true story of IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, displayed a particularly strong sense of vision and aesthetic that not only made the dramatisation of Sands’ plight a gut-wrenching experience but also a truly haunting and powerful one. His follow-up, Shame, is similarly downbeat, a grim study of sex addiction that still shows his meticulous attention to sensory details. But unfortunately this time it’s in service of a none-too-interesting fictionalised character and a story that lacks the emotional punch of his first film.
It opens well enough establishing the sexual urges and exploits of its protagonist Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a New Yorker whom regularly beds prostitutes, masturbates and consumes porn. McQueen doesn’t go for titillation, shooting with a clinical remove that effectively emphasises Brandon’s existence as devoid of warmth and love. And Fassbender, in all his amply appendaged glory, does his best with a character that inspires little of our sympathy; at best, it’s a bold portrayal of how the relentless pursuit of sex can be both a source of ecstasy and torment.
Shame’s biggest failure is that it doesn’t dig deep enough. Its focus on detachment keeps the audience away from the characters, whom remain frustratingly underdeveloped throughout. When the credits roll, we don’t know much more about Brandon, nor his troubled relationship with his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) - a crucial narrative turning point - and this lack of character resolve leaves the film feeling vacuous and lazy rather than provocative and illuminating.