More noise than signal


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

It would seem that Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful New York executive, if his sharp suit and centrally located Manhattan apartment is anything to go by. Just the sort of single guy any of the girls from Sex and the City would be overjoyed to meet, were I writing this a decade ago. There’s one minor hang up any prospective suitor would have to deal with – he’s addicted to sex.

Brandon can’t get enough of the old in-out, sating his desires with one night stands, prostitutes and when all else fails, pornography, Mother Palm and her five daughters. His lifestyle of slavishly looking for something to ejaculate into looks to have hit a minor complication when his semi-estranged sister comes to stay.

Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a sometime lounge singer with enough issues of her own to be getting along with puts a slight cramp on Brandon’s activities, and the pair seem close to having frank discussions about whatever the hell happened to them in their childhoods that’s had such a lasting impact on them. However, they don’t, a bold move in storytelling terms that certainly piques interest and gives the leads a mysterious air.

It is, however, the only engaging aspect to either of their characters, which is a bit of a problem in a character piece. Both leads are too damaged to be relatable, and even when Brandon shows moments of vulnerability, I find myself too cut off from him and his drives to care one way or the other about his fate.

Shame is a well made film on so many levels that I feel a little guilty for not liking it. It seems to have been designed as the sort of film any self respecting internet based film review vector ought to be falling over. It’s impeccably acted on the parts of Fassbender and Mulligan, and it has a consistent vision and sense of style that’s sadly rare in modern film-making.

All of the good is sadly outweighed by the characters I’m supposed to be studying in this character study being so far outside my scope of experience that I can’t really care about them, and let’s be honest, the starting point of rich white guy / sex hound isn’t automatically engaging the sympathy glands so it’s already starting at a disadvantage.

A large part of the plaudits this film garners seems to come from its study of sex addition, certainly an under-explored area in cinema. A part of me wonders, however, that if this had been about heroin addiction it would be as well received.

I didn’t enjoy Shame, although it’s not exactly the type of film where enjoyment figures into its value proposition. After all, no sane person enjoys, say, Requiem for a Dream, but I could still recommend it as an engaging and powerful film. I can’t do the same with Shame. All of the elements seem to be there, but there’s nothing in there that grabbed me and I would up just being bored of it all, and there’s few things worse than that for a flick.

Given the risk-adverse, sterile homogeneity that passes for the bulk of modern film-making, I want to see far more films like Shame being made. I just hope I like them a little more than I liked Shame.