Music Feature

Film Review: Shame

by Piers Marchant
Indecent exposure of a tortured soul.

Dir. Steve McQueen
Score: 5.4

Brandon Sullivan suffers the kind of life you might only find in cologne ads and Bret Easton Ellis novels: Rich, cultivated and handsome, he lives in the obligatorily immaculate Chelsea high-rise, wears the finest tailored shirts and has indiscriminate sex with beautiful strangers and the occasional high-society call girl every chance he gets. Are you ready for the twist? Naturally, all of this material success and compulsive orgy-making only serves to mask the terrible pain and anguish of his tortured soul. Anything with the faintest tinge of intimacy sends him scurrying away like a crab at low tide.

As portrayed by Michael Fassbender, Brandon comes across as a slightly less homicidal version of Patrick Bateman, the solipsistic sociopath from Ellis' American Psycho -- all ego and compulsion and intense brand awareness (with mournful jazz in place of Huey Lewis spinning on the fantastically expensive turntable in his apartment). This is a man, after all, who thoroughly wipes down the toilet seat at work before whacking off into it. Enter Brandon's equally screwed up sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a singer whose damaged love life leads her to take desperate measures and shack up with her bro. Sissy is expressive and callow and prone to cutting on herself, and takes almost no time at all to hop onto Brandon's all-too-eager boss (James Badge Dale), damn the consequences, a circumstance that begins to break down Brandon's carefully constructed fortress of solitude.

Clearly, this is a family in dire need of some sort of emotional reconstruction, but little is forthcoming in Steve McQueen's absorbingly banal vision. Behind the closed doors of the sibling's psyches, there percolates perfectly drawn psychosis, rendered as tidily as Brandon's extensive closet. The result gives us precious little to hold onto other than Sean Bobbit's exceptional cinematography, and the endless swing of naked bodies thrusting at us from the flat screen. The filmmakers clearly see their effort as a brooding, brutally honest affair, ripped from society's darkened underbelly, but the beats -- long as they are and naturalistic as they pretend to be -- are consistently too on point to be terribly shocking or effective. Freud would no doubt have a field day with these two; for everyone else, there's nothing new under the sun.

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