Movie Review: “Shame”

Carey Mulligan as Sissy.

“Shame” — a Film Review by Gary Chew

You’d think seeing this film way back in Twenty-11 that I’d probably forgotten most of it by now, but since it has such an out-of-the ordinary theme, it’s kept itself more clearly in my mind than, maybe, I’d really like for it to. The movie is now playing downtown on K Street at Sacramento’s Crest Theater. Its title is, “Shame.” No, I said “Shame,” not “Shane.” “Shame” is rated NC-17. And nowhere do you ever see an image of Alan Ladd on a horse.

And how could it be directed by anyone else except David Cronenberg? … The man who also gave us such heart-warming motion pictures as the first film titled, “Crash,” “A History of Violence,” “Eastern Promises,” “Naked Lunch,” “Dead Ringers,” “Scanners,” “Videodrome,” “Rabid,” “eXistenZ,” “The Fly” and another favorite, “They Came From Within.”

But back to “Shame.” What you get, here are bare breasts, pudenda of both genders, fleeting glimpses of Michael Fassbender’s unfettered package … and bodacious, but genitalia-out-of-frame sex-play. It all shows up just quite a lot in “Shame” for those who can handle loveless, self-absorbed coitus with serial partners; 99% of it, hetero. There’s also more than enough of — if you will — self-love bravely implied in the film.

Fassbender is a busy boy. He’s also currently in two movies:  “Haywire,” and another called “A Dangerous Method,” in which he displays, his Jungian method of acting as professional fellow named Carl.

Michael Fassbender again, this time as Sissy's very close brother, Brandon.

Mr. Fassbender’s character in “Shame” is Brandon, a sex addict, if you haven’t already guessed. But putting the, umm, cherry on top of this sex sundae, it’s Carey Mulligan as Sissy. As his sibling, Sissy is a bit younger and has more issues than a porcupine has quills.

Sis’s biggest problem, and her brother’s as well, is that they have sex with lots of people but, more to the point — with each other, too. Yip … but I don’t want to say, out-loud, the word we use to describe such carryings-on, even though the late, great George Carlin could’ve easily spewed it on a live broadcast without so much as taking one wound.

Ms. Mulligan is stellar in the sister part. Her scene, done in almost one take, of slowly singing all of “New York, New York” in the lounge of a small, contemporary New York City club approaches the mesmerizing. It’s one of “Shame’s” best.

With “Shame,” however, Mulligan seems to be slipping, onto sort of a Jody-Foster-like victim-track — that, despite Carey being known for playing much more agreeable characters than the mighty Ms. Foster. At a fast pace, Mulligan has been showing up often in good films over recent years. Also in Twenty-11, she was in “Drive” and in Twenty-10, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and “Never Let Me Go.” She was nominated for an Oscar playing the lead in the excellent two-thousand-9 film, “An Education.”

Mulligan and Fassbender, both, have received several nominations for their performances in “Shame although the film really belongs to Fassbender.

It seems the lank, muscular actor was almost destined to have gotten the part of Brandon, what with seeing him play the role of the late Bobby Sands in the gaunt and excruciating film, “Hunger.” That’s Steve McQueen’s two-thousand 8 picture about up-close conflict between Northern Irish captives and their British-loyalist prison guards. Fassbender, when only partially clothed in either movie, may be the skinniest, yet most svelte string bean in the garden.

He’s outstanding in “Shame” and that’s in spite of it not being possible to care for his debauched character. Depraved almost as much as Cronenberg’s aforementioned “Crash,” “Shame’s” subtle message, which doesn’t come until its final seconds, is: how especial love and respect are to a bonded relationship. You have to keep yourself focused on the faces of the actors doing this last scene — on a subway — in order to pick-UP on it, BUT … it’s THERE.

Cronenberg has given “Shame” this very fleeting, but powerful payoff. But, it’s a good one, even for a movie that’s packed with moments that are bound to generate unease for anyone who has the courage to see it.

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Gary Chew
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