"Shame" is a bleak, cynical and shallow examination of sexual addiction a movie that uses its NC-17 rating more as marketing tool than as an honest exploration of its topic.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a 30-year-old Manhattan metrosexual who hides an addiction to porn and prostitutes. Considering the immaculate state of his apartment, and the estimated 20 minutes a day it must take him to knot his scarf in that perfect way he does, it's a wonder he can find the time.
Brandon tries a normal relationship with a beautiful co-worker, Marianne (Nicole Beharie), but real intimacy and connection are more than he can handle. After a thwarted attempt at sex with Marianne, Brandon returns to the same room with a hooker to finish what he couldn't before.
Meanwhile, Brandon deals with the arrival of his needy sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) and you can see the problems in this sibling relationship in their first scene together, when Brandon finds Sissy in the shower and argues with her, seemingly unconcerned that he's looking at his sister naked.
British director Steve McQueen (who directed Fassbender to better effect in the IRA prison drama "Hunger") constructs every scene, from Brandon's tawdry sexual encounters to a scene of his boss (James Badge Dale) trying to put the moves on Sissy, with a polished look that drains the movie of any passion.
About the only time the movie shows any real emotion is when Mulligan's Sissy, working as a cabaret singer, launches into a slow rendition of the Sinatra standard "New York, New York," her fragile voice betraying the lyrics. This is a girl who's not going to make it there, or anywhere.
As for Fassbender, his mental struggle with his sexual urges was more believable in "A Dangerous Method," when he played psychiatrist Carl Jung. Here, his tortured gaze is fake, a pose for a fashion magazine.
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A bleak, and overly glossy, look at a man's struggle with sexual addiction.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, Feb. 3.
Rating • NC-17 for some explicit sexual content.
Running time • 101 minutes.