Michael Fassbender plus Carey Mulligan equals a film I will watch. Hence Shame (2011), a film I kind of wish I hadn’t watched. Not that it’s poorly made; it’s just a relentless parade of unsurprising, icky bleakness.
Fassbender stars as Brandon, a handsome and successful New Yorker working a nebulous corporate job and living what appears to be a perfectly normal life. But beneath his average joe exterior, Brandon is harboring a life-controlling sex addiction. I’ll end my summary there, because that’s pretty much the plot. The movie peels away Brandon’s slick surface to reveal the crippling behavioral patterns underneath – a revelation partly brought about the arrival of his lively, trouble-making sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who provides a window into Brandon’s dark origins.
Acting is definitely the film’s strong suit: Mulligan continues her habit of being the best part of whatever movie she’s in, and here she really cuts loose, bringing edginess and energy to her role. Fassbender anchors the proceedings effectively, and there’s great supporting work from the cast, especially Nicole Beharie as a co-worker with whom Brandon struggles to connect, and James Badge Dale as his cocky, overbearing boss.
But sadly, there’s just not much story. Shame is a character study, and mildly interesting as such; it also peers boldly and frankly into the affliction at its core. But it carries itself with an air of importance it never entirely earns, and its message is dreary and negative, treating its predictable commentary as shocking insight. Easily missed.