Sunday, December 25, 2011

Skin Deep

In the film Shame, Michael Fassbender plays a man with a real problem: He's addicted to sex. In all forms. Gotta have it. Each night he's with a different woman, never forming any emotional connection with them, and he's always on the prowl for his next encounter. In fact, the guy's so hungry he can seduce a woman just by looking at her the right way. Could be worse, I suppose. And yes, it could be better. But first, Fassbender's character, Brandon, has to realize that what he's doing is wrong. That happens when Brandon's sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), arrives and he begins to develop a conscience about what he's doing. Suddenly he has to hide his addiction (not to mention his porn magazines, videos, and web sites), or else he'll be exposed and he'll have to deal with it.

That's right: It's good, jolly stuff, just in time for the holidays.

Yes, there's a lot of sex in this movie. But the crux of Shame is how Brandon deals with his addiction. And Fassbender (perhaps best known for playing young Magneto in X-Men: First Class) portrays this challenge in an open and vulnerable way — both emotionally and physically. For one thing, he's naked often in the movie (no wonder Shame is rated NC-17). But he's also exposed because director Steve McQueen likes to shoot in long takes, with little to no editing. This really gives Fassbender nowhere to hide, and he responds with an impressively subtle performance.

McQueen has made a movie with a few titillating moments. Aside from the graphic sex scenes, there are scenes like one where Brandon is on a date with his coworker and the tension between the two is so thick it can be cut with a knife (yes, it's shot in a single, prolonged take). If only the whole movie was as exciting as that scene. Truthfully, it does drag at certain points. Shame is one of those character-driven, plotless dramas where nothing really happens, and with a running time of an hour and 40 minutes, that's a lot of foreplay before the climax.

When it comes down to it, Shame is just skin deep. It would have been nice to know more about both Brandon and Sissy, and why they've both turned out to be such damaged people, but we don't learn much about either of them, other than that they grew up in New Jersey (and yes, I realize that's enough to make anyone screwed up). These two have a pretty awkward relationship (did they once hook up?), but the film doesn't dive into that much at all. Perhaps that's for the better, though; as it is, watching Shame does make you feel kinda dirty. I'm giving the movie a B.



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