‘Shame’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated December 12th, 2014 at 9:35 pm,

Michael Fassbender in Shame Review Shame Review

For movie fans who are willing to buckle up, there’s no doubt that McQueen delivers an experience that simultaneously offers beautiful filmmaking and a welcome punch to the gut.

Michael Fassbender is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood – with lauded performances that include Lieutenant Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds, as well as a younger, more aggressive, Magneto in X-Men: First Class.

However, while killing Nazis and eradicating the human race might sound controversial in some circles – without question, Fassbender takes on his most challenging (as well as vulnerable) role in director Steve McQueen’s Shame. Is the character drama, about a sex-addicted New York business man, another high mark on the actor’s increasingly robust resume? Or does McQueen fail to support Fassbender’s ambitions with a thin cinematic offering?

Fortunately, not only does Shame feature a powerful and gut-wrenching performance from Fassbender, but nearly everyone else involved also steps up to the plate – including McQueen and co-star Carey Mulligan (Drive and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps). Shame definitely isn’t going to be for everyone – given the sheer amount of physical violence and sexual encounters depicted onscreen – but there’s no doubt that for anyone open to a challenging and stylish film, McQueen’s latest effort is likely to deliver a lasting impression.

Shame is a no-holds-barred look into the life of Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender), a successful Wall Street suit who is crippled by sexual addiction and a complicated relationship with his sister, Sissy (Mulligan), who moves in with him after fleeing Los Angeles. McQueen doesn’t hand-hold his audience, as the catalyst for the siblings’ arrested development is never fully revealed. That said, both Brandon and Sissy have lasting scars that make it hard for them to function – and, in spite of their mutual attempts to care for one another, routinely cause each of them to regress into chaos.

Michael Fassbender Carey Mulligan Shame Shame Review

Brother and sister Brandon and Sissy Sullivan

Before anyone gets the wrong impression, Brandon is not a modern day American Psycho type. He’s a relatable everyman – longing to connect with others, albeit through misguided and hollow encounters. While he doesn’t shy away from the moral low-ground (approaching married women or paying for escorts), Brandon isn’t a psychopath – he is capable of caring for others. He carries his addiction as a conscious weight on his back and, from time to time, comes very close to making tangible connections. A major success of the film is Fassbender’s ability to place Brandon in a middle ground where audiences will quickly care about the character – in spite of his cycle of reckless actions and questionable encounters.

Similarly, despite acting as a significant catalyst that knocks Brandon deeper into chaos, Sissy is equally fascinating and fully realized – even if her troubled “cutter” character, as well as her effect on Brandon, may be a little too familiar for filmgoers. That said, the familiarity doesn’t detract from Mulligan’s performance or the on-screen drama, as some of Shame‘s most fascinating and profound moments occur between the brother and sister pair. One such moment, where Sissy performs a rendition of Sinatra’s “New York, New York” in a posh cocktail lounge, not only speaks volumes about the siblings’ relationship, but cements Mulligan as one of the most captivating up-and-coming actresses in Hollywood.

While there aren’t many high-profile supporting characters outside of Brandon and Sissy, McQueen depicts a number of bold and challenging set-pieces that film-fans are bound to relish. A number of key scenes in Shame are captured in a single take – with none of the dizzying back and forth jump cuts that seem to dominate modern filmmaking. Instead of a patchwork composed with isolated line readings, Shame features a number of extended scenes that successfully capture captivating interactions between the film’s performers.

Steve McQueen Shame Shame Review

Steve McQueen directs Michael Fassbender in ‘Shame’

Additionally, some skeptics might point to Shame as a gratuitous film that glorifies promiscuity, but despite an abundance of sexual content, it’s hard to argue that any of these encounters should have been taken out or toned down, as each of these scenes successfully communicate some larger point about the characters.

Admittedly, some viewers will have a hard time sitting through certain portions of the film, which is why the MPAA stamped Shame with a NC-17 rating; however, McQueen’s dedication to his subject, even one as messy as Brandon, ultimately results in an inspired onscreen experience. Many filmmakers are held-back by focus testing as well as studio meddling – all in service of making their films easier on mainstream audiences. It’s refreshing to see a movie that is unabashedly committed to the story at hand – even when certain choices might mean a tougher sell and less box office dollars.

Some filmgoers won’t be able to handle Shame, but for movie fans who are willing to buckle up, there’s no doubt that McQueen delivers an experience that simultaneously offers beautiful filmmaking and a welcome punch to the gut.

If you’re still on the fence about Shame, check out the green-band trailer below  - or head over to our NSFW Shame red-band trailer post:


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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below:

Shame is now playing in limited release.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

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  1. I’ve heard this is great so I’m looking forward to it over here in January. Fassbender for Best Actor?

    • It’s a strong possibility. The NC-17 rating may trump a bit of his momentum but it’s a sharp performance.

  2. Nice, hopefully it isn’t a let down like “Choke” was. Fassbender is becoming one of my favorite actors!

    • You’re right about Choke though the subject matter between both films couldn’t be any different. Still Shame doesn’t sound as though it’ll try to be play as kooky or quirky as Choke failed at being.

      • *any MORE different. I’m sure he’ll bring it for Prometheus, as well.

  3. Great review…will see this if there is a theater around here that will carry it.

  4. Definitely seeing this now. I’m glad it’s Getting good reviews. Mcqueens an interesting director

  5. @ Ben: Great review. Did you ever see the French film titled, “Romance”?

    I was wondering how this film compared with that one, as I really enjoyed that older film.

    • Thanks! Glad it was helpful.

      I haven’t seen “Romance.” Though I am familiar with it. My guess is ‘Shame’ is a little less on-the-nose in terms of sexual content and may be a little bit more straight-forward in terms of character. But, as mentioned, that’s just speculation on my part. If I have time this weekend, I might try and screen ‘Romance,’ since you mentioned it. If so, I’ll report back!

  6. Too bad about the NC-17 if this truly is as good as you say it would be sure oscar contender but will be hard to win it’s self one with that rating attached. Oscars generally frown upon it.

    That said I think I’ll have to skip it. I’m sure it’s great and I was curious about it, but you’ve frightened me with all the caution tape wrapped around it lol. I’m uncomfortable when watching a film with to much sex. It just feels awkward and makes me uncomfortable. I usually find my self thinking “Are they gonna cut away at some point?”

    So I’m sure it’s a good film, but I think I’ll have to skip it.

    • I wish they would come out with an R-rated version, where the sex isn’t so blatant.

    • The heavy graphic depictions of sexual encounters work
      against their intent of creating realism by inevitability
      taking the viewer outside the movie at the very
      moment when he should be drawn into it.

      A measure of subtly is always more effective and in
      your face is too easy being artsy rather than art.

  7. Houston, it seems, is going to have to wait a while to get the film, which is very disappointing to me because I really want to see it.

  8. I can’t wait to see this.

  9. i live in the jerz i had to go to new york to see this..not a fan of travel but i’m a fan of this..which COULD be considered oscar worthy late night cinemax porn. Theater was PACKED with thick rimmed glasses types

  10. Ben, is it deserving of the NC-17 rating? I remember there being some debate over that.

    • Yah – a watered down version of the NC-17 would probably detract from the impact and the version that is playing is definitely more graphic than a usual “R” rated movie.

  11. Steve McQueen? The King of Cool? I thought he died way back in 1980! It’s good to see that he’s alive and back on top again as a director!

  12. DEAR PEOPLE – DO NOT NOT NOT GO AND SEE STEVE MCQUEEN’S MOVIE “SHAME” starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. IT IS THE WORST PIECE OF DRIVEL I’VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME. No script, zero character development, dreadful cinematography, horrendous editing, the most God-awful music score and positively anti-intellectual. I couldn’t WAIT to get out of the theatre. Plus, it was offensive toward gay men, as it had the lead character plunge to his “deepest despair” getting blown by another man in a gay club as a “last resort”, AFTER he had exhausted all the hetero poontang he could get. PUHLEEZE. That was just stupid and bad; then again, Steve McQueen is a self-admitted breeder, hence his heterosexist bias. All in all, it was predictable and trite, not to mention having to listen to pudgeface Mulligan warbling her through the singularly most tone-deaf rendition of “New York New York” I’ve ever heard since I mistakenly visited a karaoke bar in Tokyo in the ’70s. Lots of gratuitous and forceful breeder sex with “prostitutes,” and of course ED with the one and only woman who wasn’t [he did a few lines of coke before, maybe that had something to do with it?], in addition to plenty of unaddressed questions that were never answered by any of the characters or the plotline. The music was THE WORST; I would characterize it as a soft-core classical score coming on like gangbusters at the most inopportune moments. Cliché upon cliché interspersed with downright ludicrous characterizations further muddling the plotline for no reason – excuse me, but New York has America’s most competent waiters and the one in this film is an idiot for no reason. In addition, the scenes at the main character’s workplace and the bit players portraying the “addict’s” co-workers were just painfully trite and badly acted. Several unrealistic aspects of finding porn on a colleague’s harddrive were present – the boss brushes it off with believing it may have just been “an intern messing with your harddrive.” Yeah. Right. Again, idiotic artistic license without any art; in a “real” corporation, there would be a major investigation and the lead character would FRY upon contact. I’ll make a deal with you, Steve McQueen – we Yanks will stay out of making period pieces about Britain and its putatively perverted upper class, if you Limeys will stay out of portraying corporate New Yorkers as coked up zombies who are confused about their sexual orientation due to some mysterious condition called “sex addiction.” Steve McQueen – the SHAME is all yours.

    • Xtine,

      You seem to have defensive/anger issues. So, sex between a man and woman is “breeder” sex? We need a label now for man/woman sex, is that it? And for a straight male that scene you describe would be the last resort, yes. And I love the phrase “heterosexual bias” – that’s a new one.


    • A STRAIGHT MAN being blown by another man would be rock bottom much like a gay man having sex with a woman would be. Serious stop acting like a child.

      You speak as if the people behind this film are anti homosexual but you are clearly anti heterosexual. Even labeling us as Breeders.

    • Xtine, [not that you're waiting with bated breath for a reply to your amusing post]
      I think the movie deserves more credit than you’ve given it.
      I live in NY & work with all sorts of folks, and I can tell you that the depiction of NY life is quite accurate, provided you travel in the appropriate circles. I also liked the music, which, I understand isn’t for everyone…
      I loved the Honesty by the Director, Carey, Fassbender, and believe it or not, I’ve actually run into nutty waiters like the one in the film. I’ve had aloof oblivious bosses [as portrayed in the film] scumbag bosses, office romances gone bad, I’ve seen just about everything in the film save one or two scenes, which I’m told happen all the time, despite the fact that I’ve not come across it.

      but ultimately, like Ben said, the film isn’t for everyone, and it’s not just the NC-17 rating. It’s the uncomfortable, almost taboo subject matter[s] – I added the [s] because it’s not just about Brandon’s sex addiction.

  13. Xtine,

    that was by far the stupidest post I’ve ever read here.

    Getting offended because the story shows a straight man with a sex addiction resorting to a homosexual act as his low point? That’s utterly retarded. You must be really absorbed in your self-important gay world if you miss what that would be like for a straight guy, and particularly for the film’s character. There’s nothing anti-gay about it, but that you interpret it as anti-gay shows that you are truly another anal-retentive, self-important homosexual who thinks the world is out to get him because not everyone agrees with your lifestyle. Get over it. The world is tired of that kind of idiocy.

    • haha,

      please, just read the title of that movie: shame!!! so it is about shame and the most valuable line of the film is: we are not bad we come from a bad background…

      also interesting angle point: the boss who just f***** his sister, being a married man, (shame shame shame here ) and warns him about all of that anal stuff on his pc.

      All in all, this movie shows shameful behaviour, relishes in it, celebrates it, just to show, that it leads for our lead in despair and destruction. Well that is no big news and I , as a homosexual man, can understand, that a blow job from a man is for a heterosexual man just as shameful as it would be for me to allow a woman to those things to me just because I am afraid to live my own truth. So this is not a discussion about: gay or straight, right or wrong, there is no right or wrong in this, only your own truth. And the shame should be centered around : not living your own truth in life.

      OOOOOnly problem is, that I found the movie in a gay bookstore… well that is shame, because for me as a homosexual man, anal sex is a revelation not something to be ashamed about. So to see the low point of the straight man in realizing that anal sex and male to male blowing depicted is from a homosexual point of view “anty gay”. But for you straight guys I perfectly understand these notions.

      I will try to get my money back.

      May everybody be with the one the love

      and one more thing about the quality of this movie:

      you can always learn, even from the worst.

      ha ha

  14. Seriously, for anyone who reads comments top to bottom, Xtine couldn’t be more wrong if he tired – and I think he must have. This not an personal attack, but the post was so long and prominent it requires a flip side. In fact read his opening comments, and then turn each around 180 degrees. What he says were the worst are actually elements that make this a must see brilliant film.

    I agree with Xtine on the out of place waiter and underdeveloped office characters, although the latter was not an issue for me. The ‘boss’ does serve his purpose – he reminds us of how comfortable we have become with cheating spouses (married and breaking vows) in contrast to our discomfort with a sexual compulsive (single, and for the most part harming only themselves).

    As a gay man I would have been offended if the film did not depict a ‘trick’ with a man because that’s reality for a sex addict – sex is sex. That it might have been his “rock bottom” moment is not an insult to gay men. Not to mention you assume it was his only time with a man – we are only privy to about a week in this life. You know what they say about assuming…

    If you like neat Hollywood movies with plots spelled out for you, then yes, not being spoon fed what created a sex addict out of one and a love addict out of the other [two lead characters] may be tough. But watching Fassbender go from leading man good looks to down and out unattractive is plenty for the journey, and Mulligan’s rendition of the classic New York anthem is perfectly imperfect! We learn as much about her pain and their backgrounds in these few minutes – odd timing and unfamiliar keys included – as we do from their confrontations.

    Finally, as a recovering sex and love addict – I’m grateful to see the subject handled, period. People don’t always get what they want, but they get what they need. This film is one of those.

    • Bless you! well said.

  15. I can’t imagine anyone thinking that this film endorses or glamourizes promiscuity – everyone is so deeply conflicted and emotionally damaged that they can’t be seen as anything other than unfortunate people caught in the grips of their vices.

    Glad you highlighted how memorable some sequences are. The singing, as well as running scene in particular stood out: long takes that make you simultaneously drawn in and utterly uncomfortable. The film is great at forcing viewers to confront their discomfort (in a good way).

    It’s a tough film, but one that’s well worth viewing.

    Check out our review here: http://wp.me/p1VQBq-j9

  16. I saw this movie entirely differently. It is Tea Party diatribe describing the terrible effects of sex slavery that is masturbation and extra marital sex. Fassbinder portrays a handsome, successful man who destroys himself by his inability to control his desire to masturbate often in inappropriate places. He also has cupboards full of porn. The message of the movie is that addicts such as he is become so degenerate that they end up (a) unable to have “nice” normal sex with a friendly womnam (b) can only have ugly sex with the lowest of prostitutes and (c) so disregards his siste that sh attempts suicicde. The sister fares even worse. She has sex with Fassbinder’s boss and ends up with no money no job and attempting suicide. Fassbinder ends up a total wreck. The r certificate will at peast limit the mumber of people who will see this ranting obsession with the evils of sex. Tony Lee

  17. Went to see Shame last night – late in doing so but all along was not sure I wanted to see it from what I had heard and already seen online but a spare night in London and the Prince of Wales Cinema – the best – I decided to go and see if there was more to it than I had anticipated – in short – a waste of a good warm spring evening – it was dreadful, so disappointing, I cannot believe Steve McQueen stands over this one I really liked Hunger – the silence said it all – the atmosphere and depth of the movie and Michael Fassbender to me was superb but having watched Shame (could not wait to get out of the cinema) I have come to the conclusion that Fassbender does not do “vulnerability” well, he is at his best when menacing and pushing boundaries ( McQueen did not use him well in this movie) it was conservative really – it could have pushed the addiction more but it was weak, I was not convinced by anyone in this movie. Michael you can do a lot better than this – the coiffed hair ? What have they done to you ………..we want the ACTOR back …. Brandon was b******* …..the best I saw of Micheal Fassbender in this movie was at his lowest point ( yeh!) he tries to seduce another guys girl at the Bar – here being his best menacing self – piercing and intense great stuff but alas not enough of this in this diabolical movie – did not get the Oscar well did not deserve to get it on Shame …..we want FISH TANK And it’s like again please …………Michael please do not chase the quick buck ………your talent is too good – let it last.

  18. I’m probably about a year late to this, but yeah… I love this movie.
    Fassbender is even more endearing than in Hunger [as if that's possible].
    a very touchy subject matter handled respectfully by Director, and cast.
    definitively my favorite movie of the year [that year], and I still watch the Blu-Ray from time to time.
    and the score is amazing; particularly the chilling rendition of New York, NY as sung by Mulligan.
    the track played over the end credits will make you sit in your chair and think deeply about what you just witnessed.

  19. AMAAAAAZING! I would recommend today and in years to come.
    Great movie, it kept me glued to the screen the whole time! Its a shocking description of an addict on its own definition…the actor was extremely good as well…the music a powerful and well chosen supporting element of the end reslt art.
    Contrary to the current boring americna movies- they sould watch and learn.
    This is what i expect out of a director.. Not 3D Noisy tecno or blabla..i want to feel the story i want to live and i was able to do it in this movie. Keep it up! Cant wait to watch your next movie!

  20. Xtine… Get over yourself and return to planet hearth…this is what is happening somewhere in New York! Might not be in your office or with you but … So learn to apreciate it from his perspective..otherwise go and direct your own!!!