Shame ★★★½

After being shellshocked and moved profoundly by 12 Years A Slave, it was only natural to backtrack and watch Steve McQueen's previous collaboration with Michael Fassbender, Shame. While it also shows the work of a very talented director, I found it a rather joyless experience that hammers the sadness home a little too much.

Brandon is a decently wealthy and good looking man in his prime. He has a nice apartment, a job that he enjoys and a sister trying to get back in touch with him. But he has a serious sexual addiction, and will only hook up casually with women to get physical, not to date. He also masturbates often and browses pornographic websites all the time. His existence is shook up when his sister arrives unannounced, living with him for an extended period of time. Will he be able to tackle his addictions or come crashing down even further?

There are a lot of things to like about McQueen as a filmmaker. He has a particular skill for backing away with the camera and allowing things to play out for as long as needed, he never shoves his nose in trying to tell you how to feel about a moment, and often spares the dialogue, letting the images speak for themselves. He also is not shy as a filmmaker, for after seeing this one I am now very well aquainted with Michael Fassbender's entire naked body - but then Carey Mulligan also bares it all for a moment. To be serious though, I like that he allows some raw images to do the talking, but I think he pushed it a little too far in this one. "Let's have a little jogging scene in the rain here with classical piano music", it could have used some more dialogue, particularly up front.

Even though Shame doesn't belittle the subject matter of sexual addiction, anything but, I felt it to be a cold and uninviting experience, and the scenes between Fassbender and Mulligan were a bit too harsh. I understand that it isn't a family comedy, but at least one lighter scene to let us in to these characters a bit could've helped things along a lot. It's certainly the polar opposite of another recent movie about the same subject, comedy Don Jon from first time director Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I can't blame Fassbender or Mulligan for not doing their jobs, they are definitely bringing it for all they're worth, it's just the script and approach that seemed to hold me at a distance, even when it was technically well told and acted. McQueen is a bold and talented visual storyteller, but I don't think he should completely foresake all dialogue yet, and he doesn't have to drench the entire film in rain and darkness and piano music to make you feel as though you're watching something serious. One of my favourite scenes was in fact a date between Fassbender's character and a co-worker, because even though it was probably the most awkward date I've ever seen on film, the dialogue came across as real and natural and enjoyable, and for a moment I could grasp onto the characters before they slipped through my fingers again and were replaced by pretty images.

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