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Par for the Intercourse

Shame (2011)


British artist Steve McQueen has garnered much attention in the film world, and one has to wonder whether his meteoric rise to fame has more to do with ignorant moviegoers finding his name vaguely familiar and ergo deserving attention. Because to be frank, what critics initially interpreted as abstractionist about “Hunger” now seems like inarticulacy in retrospect.

His latest, “Shame,” certainly has no shortage of interesting ideas, but they are all over the place. It’s like needlessly running the gamut on an essay topic for the sake of meeting the word-count requirement. Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a yuppie with a serious case of sex addiction living in a posh one bedroom in Manhattan’s Koreatown. His professional and social lives seem like a haze in between his trysting, masturbating, hiring hookers and watching porn. To firmly establish Brandon’s fear of intimacy, Mr. McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan give him a needy sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), whose exasperating daily voice mails and unannounced drop-in to stay with Brandon are deliberately aimed at getting moviegoers to mistake her for a jilted ex.

There are moments of inspiration, such as when Brandon wanders into the backroom of a seedy gay club and momentarily becomes the impartial bystander to the reckless sexual acts he would normally engage in; but the screenwriters had to ruin that by ultimately making him an active participant. By the time Brandon’s quite literally cruising for a bruising, the film has no credibility left whatsoever.

While his commitment to method acting in “Hunger” would suggest him to be the next Christian Bale, it’s evident by now that Mr. Fassbender is instead the poor man’s Ewan McGregor. Try as he might with these bold career moves, Mr. Fassbender isn’t equipped with the intensity and concentration to convincingly portray the tortured soul. At the same time, he doesn’t reek of the same soullessness and callousness that Mr. McGregor would in this kind of scenario. Despite his jumping through every hoop, nothing adds up by the climactic catharsis.


Opens on Dec. 2 in Manhattan and on Jan. 13, 2012 in the United Kingdom.

Directed by Steve McQueen; written by Mr. McQueen and Abi Morgan; director of photography, Sean Bobbitt; edited by Joe Walker; music by Harry Escott; production design by Judy Becker; costumes by David Robinson; produced by Iain Canning and Emile Sherman; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures (United States) and Momentum Pictures (United Kingdom). Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is rated NC-17 by M.P.A.A. and 18 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Michael Fassbender (Brandon), Carey Mulligan (Sissy), James Badge Dale (David) and Nicole Beharie (Marianne).


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