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Shame is a 2011 film starring Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a New York executive with a nice apartment and a sex addition. Brandon is happy to drift along in his life, picking up women, hiring prostitutes or watching porn. Nothing has much meaning for him. One day his younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) appears and lets herself into his apartment and back into his life. He clearly adores his sister but doesn't like the disruption to his ordered lifestyle. Sissy is emotionally unstable after a relationship breakdown.
With Brandon feeling stilted and Sissy sleeping with his boss, their relationship is put under strain and Brandon attempts to date rather than shag women. It is revealed he has never had a relationship of over 4 months (I'm starting to wonder about the parents here - as the kids are a complete mess!).
I thought the performances of the two lead characters, as well as supporting roles of Brandon's work colleagues were all done well, and I thought Steve McQueen's direction also excellent. All three (Fassbender, Mulligan and McQueen got a number of nominations at awards season, for this film, and some wins in some of the more modest awards organisations.
However, this aside I found the film dragged at times for me and was hard to stick with. There isn't a huge amount of dialogue and whilst the story is told well I found my attention waning on a couple of occasions. I still think this is worth a watch but you will need to keep focused to get the best out of the film.
It's an 18 certificate with a lot of nudity, swearing and sex scenes.
Star - Michael Fassbender
Genre - Drama
County - UK
Certificate - 18
Run Time - 101 minutes
Awards - Golden Globe nomination
Blockbusters - £3.50 per night
Amazon - £7.00 DVD (£18.00Blue Ray)
Shame is one of those films that really annoys me, a so-called 'intelligent drama' that is hyped up in the broadsheet media (and seemingly wins plenty of awards for that hype alone), and they make you feel guilty and ignorant if you didn't get it. But when you actually sit down and watch it, you are left feeling decidedly cold and irritated by the whole experience. The British entertainment press seemed genuinely surprised when Shame didn't receive one single Oscar nomination, and for once I applaud The Academy on their nomination list as there is nothing remotely profound or interesting here. In fact I'm quite surprised they didn't machine gun it with awards as it's normally the sort of boring drama they love.
It's directed by 1999 Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, now dabbling in mainstream film, his previous arty short film installations giving him the confidence to make proper movies, 'Hunger', about the IRA Hunger strikes pretty good, the first British director to win the Caméra d'Or (first-time director) Award at Cannes, coupled with a BAFTA, an impressive hatrick.
Here he again hooks up with Michael Fassbender, the man of the moment, the smoldering Irishman who came to our attention in Hunger, tipped to be the next Daniel Day Lewis, and so far so good. But we all know modern art is pretentious and vacuous stuff and leaves one agitated that those East London posers in their warehouse studios are allowed to get away with calling it art, those very same emotions coming through in this cold and unrealistic portrayal of a sex addict in New York. To be honest I much preferred 'A Single Man', a similar experiment by fellow College of Art alumni Tom Ford, a happier tale and a man who does have an eye for film that all adults can enjoy.
Michael Fassbender ... Brandon
Carey Mulligan ... Sissy
Mari-Ange Ramirez ... Alexa
James Badge Dale ... David
Nicole Beharie ... Marianne
Alex Manette ... Steven
Hannah Ware ... Samantha
Elizabeth Masucci ... Elizabeth
Rachel Farrar ... Rachel
Loren Omer ... Loren
Lucy Walters ... Woman on Subway Train
We meet handsome and clean cut thirty something Brandon (Michael Fassbender), who has a good job, nice Manhattan flat and a sizeable penis, wafting all three around for all to see for the first ten minutes of the film, letting the viewer know this guy is as a complete narcissist and has it all and loves his independence and not about to waste his special talent by being in a relationship. He is addicted to sex and he has the equipment for the job, the only man in America in 2011 to still have porno magazines in his wardrobe.
After his IT department discovers he has porno on his office computer he feels the need to suck up to his obnoxious boss just in case, going out on the town for some male bonding, David (James Badge Dale) married with two kids and a wretched creature, hitting on every pretty girl in town with the most odious chat up. But Brandon is the real magnet for the girls, his sexy Irish brogue and phlegmatic approach around women extremely appealing, bonking every girl his boss fails to impress, where and whenever he pleases, this particular night in a nearby underpass.
So enter scatty sister Angie (Carey Mulligan), a musician by trade, appearing in Brandon's flat by surprise, kicked out of her last place and so looking for a crash for the night. Michael likes his space and not best pleased, especially when one night becomes four, on the second night in town sleeping with his boss, in Michael's apartment, everything messed up now people are invading his private world. But there's clearly a more between sis and brother here than squabbling siblings, a hint of incestuous attraction, holding each others stare when he interrupts her showering.
As the intrusions continue and sister's one night stay becomes week, Brandon's sexual kicks are thrown out of the apartment and onto the seedy night time Manhattan streets, the grubby bars and gay clubs of Chelsea and Soho a smorgasbord of experimentation to get his kicks, threesome with prostitutes, skin color or gender not important anymore. But his sister's equally erratic behavior is a cry for help that he has misjudged and his anger at her being in his world not helpful right now.
Ultimately a film has to reward you in some way to justify you rental or cinema ticket. The fact it did just $17million from its $6million suggests others struggled with it. Like McQueen's other job of modern installation art, this film quickly alienates you with its pretentiousness and sterile heart. You don't care for any of the characters or there sexual rebellion and as stylish as the film looks its ultimately void of any emotion or appeal, hardly titillating. Every sexual situation is exaggerated and some even corny, and if they are not that then they are grubby and unrealistic. Yes he is a cute guy with that Irish accent women love but the sophisticated pretty girl in the office just wouldn't bonk him in a hotel in their lunch hour. We all stink of BO and cheap coffee in the office at half-time. The women throwing themselves at him on the Metro, at work and in the bars to have seedy sex 24/7 just doesn't ring true. Nobody in a good job has sex up against a car park wall in the winter after meeting in a bar. Where's the turn on in they have nice warm apartments to do it in?
The suggestion was that the Academy didn't shortlist this one because of the graphic sex scenes on show, and boy they are on show. But I feel The Academy, like me, just didn't get it and it is indeed a film that leaves you cold and dismissive of it. Fassbender and Mulligan are intense in the lead roles and perform well but you don't care for them or anyone in the film and you reach for the fast-forward as nothing much happens. I had the same problem with the English Patient and also American Beauty. If the emperor is hyped up he must have clothes guys.
What this film feels like is a confessional by the director, who co-wrote the script. Many of these feelings and emotions in the film may well be his and perhaps confronting McQueen's own promiscuity and addiction. I suspect the critics liked this because they go to the same bars in Manhattan and London as he does and believe in Brandon's somewhat insecure lifestyle of booze and chasing girls. No, do yourself a favor and watch a rather excellent little film on the same subject called 'Roger Dodger', a far more enjoyable tale on a New Yorker Romeo, clever and beautifully scripted. Shame indeed.
Imdb.com - 7.4 /10.0 (61,234votes)
Metacritc.com -72 % critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com -80% critic's approval rating
The Guardian -'It's McQueen's astonishing knack for layering thought itself into his images that really stuns, and Shame is packed with scenes which are both immaculately composed and seething with meaning'.
Movie News - 'It's good, but "Shame" can start to feel like you've walked in on a chronic masturbator one too many times'.
The Times -'The fascinating story of a man who seemingly has everything and nothing both at once'.
Film Weekly -'As Chuck D put it back in '88, don't believe the hype'.
= = = Special Feature = = =
-Interview with Michael Fassbender-
-Interview with Carey Mulligan-
Michael and the producer talk in front of an audience about their film.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Shame - Film and DVD
Michael Fassbender is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. I just hope because of his hunk status and huge female following that he doesn't get attention for the wrong reasons. Brad Pitt's career, although superb would've been even greater received by critics were it not for certain tabloids and websites that tried to exploit his good looks. Fassbender is a versatile actor and I can see him becoming one of the greats if he keeps his feet on the ground; judging by interviews I have seen with him, this won't be a problem.
The movie 'Shame' was directed by Steve McQueen, the director of 'Hunger' with the same name as the iconic actor. For those of you who have seen Hunger, you will know that McQueen is no stranger to breaking taboos and showing the situation exactly how it is. Shame is no different and as I mentioned, I hope Fassbender's performance is remembered for its ferocity and brilliance rather than the full frontal nude scenes. I saw a lot more of Fassbender than I really wanted to in this movie but it is not added to hype the movie in anyway and is not crassly done. Shame is a hard-hitting story about a man who cannot control his sexual urges and yet finds it impossible to sate those urges by way of a normal sexual relationship. Let's take a look at the story.
Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) lives his life in a compact bubble of sexual perversion and uncontrollable urges that he must act on. He has an important job and goes to work like the rest of us but not before watching porn or web cam sex with his breakfast; at least, that is, if he hasn't had a prostitute over for the night.
His work day is one of meetings and deadlines and a daily pop to the Men's room to masturbate in private. One day his computer is taken away and his boss (James Badge Dale) tells him that a virus has been found on it. Brandon returns home one evening to find music playing in his apartment. He finds his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) in the shower and she stands there naked for what would be considered too long and very uncomfortable to most brothers and sisters.
Sissy is imposing on Brandon's life and his normal schedule and sexual desires are disrupted by her. He takes his boss to see his sister sing at a club and is emotionally moved by it. His boss ends up sleeping with his sister in Brandon's bed, which Brandon cannot deal with.The next day at work Brandon's boss tells him that his computer is filthy and full of porn. Brandon looks perplexed and his boss suggests that it was his intern or someone hacking into his system.Brandon throws all of his porn out (and there is a lot of it) and tries to go on a normal date with a co-worker, Marianne (Nicole Beharie) from his office building. The date is fine but the second meeting, which Brandon instigates and rents out a hotel room for, does not go quite as expected.Brandon spirals out of control, after demanding that his sister leave he is stifled by a world of gay sex, prostitution, violence and depravity. Can he beat his compulsion before it beats him?
This really is an adult film in the sense that it is defined by its grown up approach to a subject that is often riddled with unnecessary juxtaposing of what people's perceptions of sexual deviance or desire usually are. When we think of the term 'Adult Movie', we tend to think of a film of pornographic nature; either that or one of intelligence that might mean we have to think a little. This movie is of the latter creed, although the subject matter obviously contains a lot of reference to pornographic material.Fassbender is brilliant in this movie and plays a character that seems normal on the outside but is devoid of any caring, human emotion on the inside. He had some bottle to film some of the scenes in this movie and he pulled it off rather well to coin a rather distasteful analogy.The characters sex drive is through the roof but because of his lack of any emotional attachment he has to sate his desire in any way that he can, as long as it gives him that sexual high; a high he cannot reach with normal sex or at least sex that ninety-nine per cent of the population would deem normal.Carey Mulligan is fantastic as Brandon's sister Sissy and they play off each other fantastically. Something obviously went on with them while they were younger and there is almost an awkward silence in each conversation that they have. When Sissy begs Brandon to go and hear her sing he promises to go as he has said many times that he would. He takes his boss along with him. Carey Mulligan really sings and she is mesmerising to say the very least. She sings a slowed down, bluesy version of 'New York, New York' and it really is fantastic. Viewers are treated to the whole song and the magic part about this is the fact that Michael Fassbender and James Badge Dale had never heard Mulligan sing. The director Steve McQueen had them visit a real club at 3am in the morning where he had set up Mulligan to sing the song. The emotions and reactions to the song that you see are real reactions. Fassbender is tearful and I can believe it was real because Mulligan's performance is heart rendering; it really is that good. So she is not only a fantastic actress, but the girl can hold a tune too; and then some.There are some shocking moments in the movie and again I am generalising here because what might seem shocking to some may not seem shocking to others, but I am going out on a limb and assuming that most people reading this review are not sexual deviants or regular watches of pornography.
There is a scene in a seedy bar where Brandon virtually sexually assaults a young girl and then taunts her boyfriend with that very fact. He is beaten badly and after failing to get into a night club he ends up in a gay sex club where anything goes. There are some hard-hitting scenes in the film and some of them must have been difficult to shoot. Fassbender is so credible in the role that you don't for one second think that it is just a movie and just actors. He is believable to the extent that you have to remind yourself it was him after the film ends.
The scene with the office girl Marianne, on the second date, totally sums up Brandon's problems and although you are sickened by him you also feel sorry for him even if you can't exactly empathise with him. This scene was filmed on location at Manhattan's 'Standard' hotel and part of the shot was Fassbender having sex with a woman, standing up against a full length glass window. People in the streets below saw this and the Fassbender and the actress waved to people during takes, while still nude. The hotel has become notorious since the movie and couples are regularly seen having sex against the full length windows.
There is a scene at the beginning of the movie with a girl on the subway. She knows that Brandon is looking at her and she starts to respond. But just what is it that holds her back? Was she told not to talk to strangers as a child? Is it just that safety mechanism that is built into all of us or does she somehow sense that Brandon is not quite right and could be dangerous? Brandon follows her off the tube but loses her in the crowd and you sort of feel relieved that she got away.We see the girl again at the end of the movie with a different slant on it and you can judge for yourself. The girl is played by Lucy Walters who has been really busy since filming Shame and has a number of film and TV appearances that are being released as we speak and early next year.
As far as the direction itself goes, I would say McQueen does an amazing job. It is a movie that allows you to fall in love with New York all over again. The shots on the subway are beautifully crafted and the scene where Fassbender goes for a run at night gives testament to what a beautiful and vibrant city it really is. The scene is shot from Fassbender's side and we see him running along the pavement or sidewalk. As he passes each bloke you begin to wonder whether it is shot in real time or whether there is a time delay process involved. It really is a great shot. The cinematography is also very vivid throughout the movie and it runs as a sort of homage to New York. Add to that the song from Mulligan and it really does give you that 'Big Apple' feel.
The end sequence with Sissy is rather harrowing and lingers in your mind after seeing the movie.
The whole movie was filmed in New York, which is strange for a UK based production. Film Four and the UK Film Council in conjunction with See-saw Films had a budget of 6.5 million but the movies director Steve McQueen could not afford to film the movie in the UK, so he decided to move it to New York. The strange thing here is that the US company Fox Searchlight Pictures only paid four hundred thousand for the US distribution rights. The movie only just made that amount in the opening weekend and only grossed just over four million overall; so at a loss of two and a half million it was not a success commercially. A big part of that was probably the fact that it would not have played at a lot of mainstream cinemas and its money for the most part would have come from smaller independent cinemas and art houses. I can't for the life of me figure out how it was cheaper to move cast and an enormous crew to New York to film. Maybe the fact that the whole movie was done and dusted in twenty-five days had something to do with it. The movie was picked up by Momentum pictures for the release of the DVD.
It is not a movie for everyone, that is for sure, but it is worth seeing for the performances of Fassbender and Mulligan alone. It lingers in your mind a little after the credits have rolled and gives you a mixture of feelings and thoughts. I felt dirty, sad, shocked, exhausted and entertained in that the performances were amazing. One thing I will take away from the movie is that Michael Fassbender is one hell of a terrific actor and I feel that had the film had another actor in it I may not have made it through the whole process; and that is testament to Fassbender's skill at what he does. Overall you will either hate it or look beyond the subject matter and see a film that is both provocative and thought-provoking. This film is about human nature and about life, how fragile it can be and how quickly it can swing from one mode to another.
The standard DVD (released on May 14th 2012) includes a few extras including cast interviews and theatrical trailer. The Blue-ray version includes Q&A with Michael Fassbender (35 minutes in length) from the Hackney Picture House - January 2012 with Dave Calhoun; Film Editor, Time Out. Film clips and Q&A (including audience questions) discussing his filmography, working with director Steve McQueen, the draw to the film, his first reaction to the idea of the film, the duality of the character of Brandon vs. being an addict, working with Carey Mulligan and the setting of New York.
Interview with Michael Fassbender (3 minutes) discussing the character of Brandon, on sex addiction, the challenges of the film and on working with Steve McQueen and Carey Mulligan.
Interview with Carey Mulligan (2 minutes) discussing the character of Sissy, on preparing and getting the role and on working with Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender.
There is also an interactive menu with scene access and trailers.
There is also a special double-pack version of the DVD and Blue Ray.
For Brandon (Michael Fassbender), sex is what starts and ends his day. He wakes up, walks into the bathroom, and masturbates whilst showering. At night, the internet from his laptop gives him access to all sorts of pornography. That's not all. He often enjoys the company of prostitutes, many one night stands, and even more masturbation in the men's room of his workplace. He has what looks like a good job in New York. He enjoys drinking out with his work colleagues in classy bars. On the outside, he's your average good-looking regular advertising executive. Brandon probably knows that he's a sex addict. He would never admit it, but you can see the pain of a tortured man in his face whenever he tries to satisfy his constant sexual craving that is slowly eating away at him. He is forever tormented - and sex provides that brief moment of relief and satisfaction. This doesn't last long of course, but this will have to do. And as a single man living alone in his apartment, Brandon seems to be in control of his life.
This is until the sudden appearance of his younger sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). She has been calling for a while, but Brandon was in no mood to have his own private, ordered routine interrupted. But there she is one day, showering away in Brandon's bathroom. He is not pleased with this unannounced visitation, but being his own sister, decides to give this a go, and tries to take care of her. But it turns out Sissy is just as damaged as Brandon. Whereas Brandon tends to actively seek out a way to find satisfaction, Sissy is more helpless and relies on others for comfort and company. They are the complete opposite - Brandon explodes whenever he's frustrated, whilst Sissy implodes. Her low self-esteem and self-destructive behaviour make her emotionally vulnerable. Hooking up with Brandon's married boss (the briefly shown but excellent James Badge Dale), on Brandon's own bed no less, never cleaning up after herself, the carefully organised, squeaky clean New York apartment life that Brandon is so used to and needs starts to fall apart as the unstable Sissy crashes head-on into his life.
What made these characters who they are is not the focus for McQueen. Slight hints only suggest their troubled childhoods and other than that, the audience has to fill the gaps themselves. What "Shame" does so brilliantly however, is the careful examination of its extremely complex, difficult characters. Brandon's world, for what it's worth, is a meticulously structured one, and this is shown through the neatly designed sets that surround him. It's almost too clean, to the point that it suggests Brandon cannot afford the time or desire to decorate. His mind is on one thing only - sex, and how he will get through another day fulfilling his cravings.
It's what Fassbender's remarkable performance shows that is truly fascinating; the inner Brandon, the side of him he never shows to anyone. His colleagues don't suspect a thing (they assume it's a virus when a whole load of disturbing content is found on his computer hard-drive), and initially, his sister doesn't quite know. Fassbender is an intense, focused presence on screen, and his quite blank gaze is unnerving as he seduces women from afar. God knows what's going on inside his head, but from his perfectly still, unflinching motion, we can only presume there is no limit to his dark fantasies. McQueen's frequent use of close-ups into the actor's face further boosts his range and talent as the fearless actor finds that delicate balance between superficial charm and disturbing hidden sexual appetite.
Sissy obviously has an important impact on his lifestyle. He contemplates whether a normal intimate relationship is ever possible for someone like him. This prompts him to approach a co-workers something that doesn't quite lead to the things he was expecting. It's heart-breaking to see a man so distant from other human beings - he's attracted to no-one and sex is merely a convenient gateway for orgasm, which is really what he's at all concerned about, and Brandon is never too fussed about how he goes about this. On one night of desperation, he even goes to a gay bar. There is nothing to suggest that Brandon is gay, or straight for that matter. Building a deep, meaningful connection is not his specialty, and this is all he's ever known.
Acting against Fassbender is the equally effective Mulligan, who shows, among other things, that she can sing too. As she performs a stripped down, bare version of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" in a cabaret bar where she occasionally works as a singer, it becomes the defining moment that tells us of the pain and heartache that Sissy has suffered over the years, captured so exceptionally well by the young English actress. Her rendition of the song, again accompanied by McQueen's invasive close-up, quietly sums up her insecurities and weakness. The song is aimed at Brandon, and Sissy's longing to have someone stable to count on. During this memorable scene, McQueen shifts his camera from Sissy to Brandon, showing our protagonist suppress his emotions. He does have a soft spot for his uninhibited wreck of a sister, but still has no choice but to put his needs first.
Much like his actors, McQueen remains brave throughout the film, and is never afraid to look away even in the most exposed, uncomfortable scenes. His long, patient takes will no doubt frustrate some viewers, but "Shame" is not supposed to be an easy watch. The explicit nudity is necessary to immediately set the tone and McQueen doesn't beat around the bush introducing the challenging central character. We are supposed take Brandon for what he is, but it's hard not to wonder just what it was that plunged him into the world of sex addiction. Even a gentle hint would have sufficed but "Shame" gives us hardly any insight into their past. What happens in the few days of their lives we do get to see is no doubt a gripping one, but you may not leave the cinema feeling fully invested in its characters. And McQueen's unique style does take time getting used to, so perhaps a quick reminder by watching his equally outstanding "Hunger" may help jog your memory. But what "Shame" is proud to boast, its top-notch performances, perceptive direction, the set design, are well worth your while.