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Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

Michael Fassbender
Carey Mulligan
James Badge Dale
Nicole Beharie.
Steve McQueen.
Abi Morgan
Steve McQueen.
Running Time
101 minutes

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Manhattan becomes shlong island

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New York professional Brandon (Fassbender) thinks he is a normal guy with a robust sexual appetite. But the unexpected arrival of his damaged sister Sissy (Mulligan) forces him to realise that he might have a problem...

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A film about sex addiction from the team that made the IRA strike drama Hunger was never likely to be a frothy, titillating romp, and the film Steve McQueen has made — co-written with playwright Abi Morgan — is every bit as intellectually austere as one might imagine. It is also recognisably from the same well; though it is set in the modern day, takes place in the US and is seemingly not in the least bit political, it is a film about free will and the age-old battle between body and soul. In Hunger, Bobby Sands’ soul won that battle, but Brandon in Shame is not so fortunate: he thinks he’s a hedonist when in fact he’s a slave, both to his body and its desperate, physical need for contact.

The film even begins as a horror film might, with an ominous orchestral score and Brandon on the subway, making eye contact with the woman opposite. First he smiles, and she smiles back, but his gaze never drops and she becomes nervous. Flirtation becomes pursuit, with Brandon’s eyes narrowing, the smile losing its good humour, the body language turning predatory as the woman, now flustered, leaves, trying to lose him in the crowd. She does, and the whole film is here in microcosm: when he realises he’s lost her, Brandon’s bravado melts into child-like disappointment. What will he do now? From the start, the mask is slipping.

For a character study of such depth and intimacy, it helps to have a leading man who can rise to the challenge, and fortunately Shame’s intellectual rigours are leavened by a tour de force performance by the mighty Michael Fassbender. He gives Brandon depth and humanity; this is not, strictly speaking, a simple male-ego-in-crisis movie, even though it does play as a slightly more complex reworking of Alfie. Played by Fassbender, Brandon is a regular guy, albeit someone who keeps his mental wounds hidden from the world and maintains an admirable regime of denial.

That we can understand and believe in Brandon as a man on the verge of unravelling comes down to another remarkable performance, by Carey Mulligan as Sissy. It’s too small a role for her by far, but she works wonders with what she has. Seeing Sissy — theatrical, flaky, self-harming and self-
sabotaging — sets Brandon’s mind reeling. Are they the same? Deep down, he decides, they are, which is a realisation that is key to the eye-popping last act. It is not, however, a film without humour and warmth, provided respectively and in equal measure by James Badge Dale as Brandon’s boss and Nicole Beharie as his secretary, and it is these supporting players that give Shame its potency. The film lurches fatally into melodrama in its closing minutes, but although it adds a grim, moralistic aftertaste, it isn’t enough to derail an unflinching, moving study of 21st-century loneliness.

Brave, beautifully acted and emotionally revealing — an early strong contender for the most provocative and compelling film of the year.

Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Shame
Empire Star Rating

thought it was excellent

and very well-made. Fassbender is truly superb. Almost want to give it 5 stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 21:45, 15 January 2012 | Report This Post

RE: How refreshing?

Excellent tale about the debilitating nature of addiction & the personal shame (see what I did there?follows. Fassbender & Mulligan are brilliant. McQueen's directorial hand (like Hunger) is sublime as well. Riveting stuff & my favourite film of the year so far; but given the list only includes the Iron Lady, Goon & War Horse that's not really saying much at the moment. ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 00:58, 14 January 2012 | Report This Post

How refreshing?

I may go and see this again, just because it's the first film that's really made me think in ages. Graphic, but never exploitative, heartfelt but never heartwarming, empathetic without being sympathetic and, most importantly, riveting from start to finish. BTW, the Daily Mail review is hilarious. Totally missed the point and, seemingly, half the actual movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Nicky C at 15:52, 13 January 2012 | Report This Post

RE: A great film

Saw it ages ago. It was a great film, no doubt about that, but just couldn't live up to the hype. Fassbender was amazing, though. ... More

Posted by nhassell at 18:35, 05 January 2012 | Report This Post

RE: A great film

REPOSTED FROM THE OTHER SHAME THREAD... In New York City, Brandon's carefully cultivated private life, which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction, is disrupted when his sister Cissy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay... and that really is about your lot! The film sadly drags as the narrative never really has anything driving it forward. It all looks very nice and there is no doubting that Brandon is a seriously lonely individual, but it just never goes anywhere. He goes from ... More

Posted by losthighway at 12:39, 05 January 2012 | Report This Post

A great film

Plot; Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) is a seemingly successful bachelor living in New York City. He has difficulty with balancing his life with work and addiction. Things are made more difficult when his sister Sissy (Mulligan) unexpectedly arrives at his apartment. Needing a place to stay Brandon reluctantly agrees that she can stay for a few days. Sissy’s presents causes Brandon to struggle further to establish equilibrium in his life. Review; Brandon enjoys nothing more than being ou... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by spike2006 at 11:13, 03 January 2012 | Report This Post

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