Shame isn’t a film for everyone and I knew that going into it. You can tell just based off of it’s NC-17 rating, which is bestowed upon very few films these days. The official MPAA listing says “Rated NC-17 for some explicit sexual content.” If it were me, I’d change the word “some” to ” a whole bunch of.” There’s plenty of nudity to go around in this movie, full frontal from lead actor Michael Fassbender to lead actress Carey Mulligan. Basically the point is, this is a movie made by adults, for adults.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the film itself. Michael Fassbender is fantastic as a man, who while on the outside, looks like a successful, handsome, and well put to together man living in New York City. However, he lives a private life as a sexual addict, which means doing all sorts of things from ordering prostitutes, to picking up random women in bars, to using his work computer for pornography. Suddenly, his sister played by Carey Mulligan, decides she needs a place to crash and so she barges in on his private life. As you can expect, things don’t go well from there. The film is co-written and directed by Steve McQueen, with Abi Morgan getting the other writing credit.
There are some brilliant scenes in this movie that I wanted to watch over and over. Particularly, one early on, where Fassbender’s character is riding on a subway car and basically picks up a girl by just staring at her throughout the subway ride. There are no words spoken, just glances and stares back and forth between the two actors. That’s one of the things that I took away from this movie, when they were writing the script they probably told themselves “Less is more.” For instance, late in the movie, there is a climatic scene where someone is in trouble and they need to call for 911 and instead of hearing yelling and crying and talking to the 911 phone call, you just hear the movie’s score. I loved that because we know what the character is saying, why not just make it different by adding a beautiful piece of music over it? It worked really well. Another thing, to notice is McQueen’s use of long takes and lack of coverage in camera set-ups in particular scenes. I noticed two, but if I watched it again I could probably find more. The first date between Fassbender’s character and the woman from the office was all shot from the same camera shot of just the two of them with no cutting. There wasn’t one camera over his shoulder, then another over her shoulder. That means that whole scene was done in one take, however many times they had to do it to get it right. The other time I noticed it was when Fassbender and Mulligan were fighting while watching cartoons on the couch. The camera is constantly behind them just shooting the back of their heads and never leaves until the scene ends. Sorry, I’m a wannabe director/cinematographer so I get excited when I see interesting things like that.
Shame and Fassbender received a fair amount of awards buzz last year, including Fassbender getting a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and promptly lost to George Clooney for his performance in The Descendants. Shame was a great film that many people will find too graphic and too artistic, however I got lost in the story and found Michael Fassbender’s performance tremendous. I do however, think if they could’ve found a way to cut it to an R rating it would’ve been a more widely accepted movie and something the Academy Awards would’ve looked more closely at. I highly recommend, but make sure the kids aren’t in the room for this one.