This week in theaters, Shame, the already multiple award-winning film, directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender hits theaters with a whole lot of sex, emotion and fine filmmaking. McQueen and Fassbender have already proved that they’re a powerful duo with Hunger and now they’re back to show us what they’re made of. The NC-17 rating will likely scare away some viewers, but it really shouldn’t. The topic of this film is extremely relevant to a major societal issue taking place today, and the way the film is shot (nudity and all) represents the honest and raw portrayal of the emotions of the story you’re seeing on screen. It’s a provocative film in many ways and well worth checking out, that is, if you’re willing to go on the journey…

The Players:

  • Director: Steve McQueen
  • Actors: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
  • Screenplay: Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen
  • Cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt
  • Musical Score: Harry Escott
  • Producers: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman

The Plot:

A sex addict struggles with maintaining his way of life as his job starts to question him, his sister comes into town bringing her own baggage as well as reminding him of his own, and he attempts to find ways to “be normal” but just can’t.

The Good:

  • Michael Fassbender: Between this and A Dangerous Method (oddly enough one of my other favorite films of the year), there’s no doubt that people will start wondering what’s going on with Fassbender that draws him to these sexually diverse parts. My theory is that he likes good roles, but I’m sure others will come up with other more petty reasons. In this film Fassbender is brave, seductive, horrifying and completely vulnerable in this film. It’s like watching the raw soul of a tortured man on screen. You quickly forget any other character’s he’s played and not only is he able to bring the character to life, but he’s able to engage the audience in such a wide variety of emotions, it’s hard to understand how he’s able to bring so much to life.
  • Carey Mulligan: This is one of those parts that could be easily overdone, pushed, exaggerated and quickly become annoying. Thank god for Mulligan and her potent subtlety. Though I don’t like all the directions the script took this character in, she gave one hell of a performance, whether on screen or over a message machine, she’s captivating and it’s lovely to see her in such a courageous role once again.
  • Honesty: From the way the film was shot, to the lackadaisical and yet precise approach to nudity, to capturing the emotions that go along with this characters sex acts, to the lighting, to the sets and pissing on camera — everything about this film felt very raw and true to life. The film fully engages you and transports you into the world and psyche of these characters.
  • Taking a Leap: Though this film is not 100% successful, it was amazing because it’s not like the rest of the herd, it’s attempting to break new ground and in new ways. It’s a leap forward from a number of other films that talk about sex and really sets itself apart in it’s ability to not only show a story but emote on screen and have the audience emoting with it.

The Bad:

  • The Ending: It felt like they wanted to make the film into a full tragedy, but at the very end slipped into partial tragedy. It feels like there even could have been another ending for festivals that was toned down for its release. Just a guess. Without spoiling anything, the ending did not fully embrace the rest of the film, nor have the depth that we had seen up until then. The entire film, up until a few moments at the end felt very fresh and they they made a few cliche turns with Mulligan’s character and didn’t fully “go there”. Which ties into…
  • Lack of Depth in the End: The filmmakers were dealing with a relevant topic and shedding light on it in very bold ways, but it felt like they didn’t know fully how to end it with the same power and depth of the rest of the film. Maybe they felt there was already enough darkness in the film as whole that they didn’t need a more disturbing ending, but it would have been nice to end the film in a somewhat more profound way and with something as honest and inventive as the rest of it. (Note: I will see this film a second time just to make sure I agree with this statement. If you disagree I’d love to know your thoughts below.)

Overall:

It’s easy to get bored of watching the same damn films over and over again, but if there’ one thing I can say about Shame it is that it felt like McQueen was really attempting to step into new territory and do so in new ways. The film was beautifully shot, finely acted, is as relevant as it will ever be, takes a lot of risks, and though I have my complaints about it, this is a film that helps move cinema forward and in a time when we’re flooded with new releases, this is one that has the potential to be remembered and used as an example for other filmmakers for some time to come.

For all of those reasons not only do I recommend Shame as a sold pick that will likely get a lot of Oscar buzz, but I am grateful for it both as a film-watcher and a filmmaker — it’s truly inspirational.

Rating: 8.5/10

Shame is in select theaters now and will be hitting more this Friday, December 2nd.