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SHAME (director/writer: Steve McQueen; screenwriter: Abi Morgan; cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt; editor: Joe Walker; music: Harry Escott; cast: Michael Fassbender (Brandon), Carey Milligan (Sissy), Nicole Beharie (Marianne), James Badge Dale (David Robinson); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NC-17; producers: Iain Canning/Emile Sherman; Fox Searchlight; 2011-UK)

“An intense and uncompromising drama that examines the sex life of a30-something loner bachelor sex addict.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Black British artist-turned-director Steve McQueen (“Hunger”)directs an intense and uncompromising drama that examines the sex life of a30-something loner bachelor sex addict, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), who lives in NYC in a hi-rise luxury apartment, has a high-end job, and is handsome, dresses smartly and is personable. What he lacks is a handle on his sex life and is so bottled-up he can’t make long-term relationships with the opposite sex.Abi Morgan co-writes the screenplay with McQueen, that shows their protagonist is addicted to sex with prostitutes and online porn, and to his detriment is locked into that world. We will see that the filmmaker doesn’t care why the addiction, only about its damaging consequences.

Brandon is annoyed when his suicidal extroverted tortured-soul needy singer sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) crashes in his pad and with nowhere to go the introverted Brandon reluctantly lets her stay. Sissy tries to connect with her downcast brother by telling him “We’re not bad people,” we just come from a bad place.” They were born in Ireland, but raised in New Jersey. David (James Badge Dale), Brandon’s loud-mouth family man cheating boss, forces his way to accompany his employer catch Sissy sing in a downbeat style, at a nightclub, Frank Sinatra’s signature song “New York, New York” that tells if you can make it New York you can make it anywhere. Afterwards the obnoxious boss takes the vulnerable Sissy back to David’s pad and bangs her, which greatly upsets Brandon.

We watch Brandon navigate easily with prostitutes and then get a chance to watch him fail as he goes out on a date with an eligible girl. Marianne (Nicole Beharie) is Brondon’s sweet black work colleague, whom he takes to a fancy restaurant and finds when he takes her to bed on date number two that he can’t perform.

The success of the film pivots on the determined sex freak performance by Michael Fassbender, who takes us into the head of a sex addict and lets us see that despite his outward politeness he’s a cold bastard incapable of love or intimacy. But the narrative, despite its few dramatic jolts that gets our attention, offers too pat a psychological take on its subject even if the pic ends unresolved and encourages us to muse about him further on our own. The bold and graphic sexual film never recovers from keeping its protagonist as a case study film and by never letting him get up from being observed under the microscope. Nevertheless Fassbender makes for a good specimen choice, as he has the kind of magnetic screen presence that makes any picture he’s in all the better.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”