Stars: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Hannah Ware, Amy Hargreaves, Nicole Beharie, Lucy Walters, Elizabeth Masucci, Briana Marin, Anna Rose Hopkins
A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident.
Sex and film are a tricky combination. Of course, they have a long and voluptuous history together, whether it's as a marketing ploy in the trailer or just a tentpole to prop up a dull first act. But whatever way you cut it, sex is usually a distraction from the content of a film, and rarely an addition.
Shame, however, is centred on Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a 30-something sex addict living in New York - and as such has to tread the fine line of being obliged to include as much as sex as possible, yet without making it gratuitous or even erotic. And, for the most part, it succeeds. Brandon's life is meticulously documented through the opening scenes, one that is traditional "New York high-flying businessman" but shot through with prostitutes, porn and frequent trips to the cubicle at work to relieve the pressure. He comes off as cold and calculating, only fretting when his computer at work is taken in for a "routine check-up" - but the other shoe is waiting to drop, and this shoe comes in the form of a scene-stealing Carey Mulligan as Brandon's sister Sissy.
Mullligan's star has been rising in too many films to mention over the past year, and while Shame won't be responsible for making her bankable Hollywood gold it may just nab her some shine at the Oscars. Sissy is troubled from the moment we first hear her scratching voice jokingly threaten suicide over Brandon's answering machine, and scenes between the two make for uncomfortable viewing - the dynamic of damaged siblings as seen through the lens of sexuality.
To be fair, the film never rises to the temptation to do go too far with these two, or with any of the characters - a scene where Sissy whispers her way through "New York New York" is just as affecting and tragic as one where Brandon has her pinned to the couch in nothing but a towel. And this is Shame's great success: it knows that it is dealing with addiction, not sex. This is the way in which these people express their pain, it isn't the end goal - and as such every sex scene feels justified, whether it's portraying Sissy's horrific choice in men, or Brandon's fumbling attempts to make love to a woman who might actually have a chance of caring for him.
The film does lose its way towards the end, though. It heads for some easy and clear-cut plot choices where ambiguity would be best, but up until that point it is a delicate, interesting and moving analysis of how terrible people are at putting themselves back together - and the useless salve they apply to old wounds.
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