Less Than Shameful

Movie: Shame (2011)

Watch out: here comes the smolder.

When Tiger Woods has it, it’s a joke, but sex addiction is no laughing matter in Shame, a Steve McQueen movie that needs Michael Fassbender’s tortured face to work. The man is one of the most interesting actors working right now. That’s why it’s such a shame the camera man always seems to be at the wrong place at the wrong moment.

Brandon lives a life that many would envy at first glance: he has a modern apartment in New York, and a job that he’s good at, though what exactly he does isn’t important. Most of all, he sleeps with a lot of women, and not just prostitutes, either. He manages to get a gorgeous, professional-looking woman to bang him against a concrete wall after guessing her eye color. He’s not even trying, and even when he’s kind of flirting, he’s really just staring impassively at beautiful women on the subway.

It’s all empty, of course, because Brandon isn’t doing any of that because he genuinely enjoys it. The film opens with Michael Fassbender’s staring at the ceiling. He gets up to pad around his swank apartment, and the camera is positioned so we get Mr. Floppy right in the face as he passes by to and fro. Is this in-our-face nudity suppose to convince us that a man waking around his own apartment naked is a sign of some internal trauma? I’m less than convinced, and Michael Fassbender’s empty gaze is the real story-teller throughout the film.

Brandon’s sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up to crash at his place, and slowly Brandon will come to a precipice. If my sister was such an empty shell of hipsterness I’d have thrown her out long ago. She sings “New York, New York” painfully slowly in epic close-up. My skin crawled as I silently begged for just one tiny cut away to a reaction, but the film is adamant that only her and Brandon exist in this scene, even though she never looks at him. The film is adamant about a lot of things, but what exactly that could be is anyone’s guess.

Brandon tries to get rid of his addiction – he throws away all his porn – and goes on a normal date. Once again the camera is positioned at an odd choice. It’s hunkered down in a corner of the restaurant, and the most expressive face we can see is of New York’s worst waiter. Michael Fassbender’s face is wasted completely. Is he enjoying his attempt at normalcy? Even for a moment?

While I don’t think we needed a profile shot of Fassbender jogging for what felt like a literal mile on screen, the director did, and instead cuts short the crucial scene of Brandon’s final emotional outburst. In the end, I felt quite cheated. Instead of an interesting story, a character study or just a peak into a mental state we’re unfamiliar with, I watched the credits roll feeling that I’d rather have watched Michael Fassbender’s face for an hour and a half.

Shame is the sort of film I would recommend to people who like watching internal struggles, but unfortunately it never quite gets there. The film sits in the corner, watching Fassbender work his magic from afar. He’s well worth the watch on his own, however.

Dice roll: 4

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