Shame ★★★½

Michael Fassbender has been 'the one to watch' for quite a few years now, and in 2011 alone he played two very contrasting roles: Mr Rochester in 'Jane Eyre', and the protagonist, Brandon, here. Two very damaged individuals trapped by their sexual pasts.

Where in the classic novel, the past was an illegitimate child and a jealous murder, here it seems to be an incestuous attraction (or even relationship, it isn't clear), with his sister, 'Sissy', played by Carey Mulligan. When she comes by for an extended stay, sparks begin to fly, but there is nothing overly dramatic.

Real, raw and visceral, the siblings play out their dark relationship while Brandon struggles with his sex addiction, and his shame at his weakness and inability to stop exploiting himself and the women (and men) he encounters. Fassbender and Mulligan both put themselves totally out there in Steve McQueen's film (co-written with Abi Morgan), with no boundaries or embarrassment.

This is a grim watch, showing damaged people who will never have happy endings, or be able to truly satisfy their desires. Sissy's blatant flirting with her brother, legs akimbo, or flaunting her nude body in the shower, is hard to stomach. Brandon's blank consumption of sexual favours from nameless whores, or unengaged viewing of computer pornography, does nothing to remove his guilt at a past never quite uncovered for us.

This film raises questions on how well we really know the people we interact with, or realise what goes on behind closed doors. Brandon is so addicted even his work PC is full of porn, but he can only sexually perform when emotion is removed from the equation. He's a deeply flawed individual, but is he really that unique?

I found some of the music interesting - a sax solo of 'My Favourite Things', Mulligan's singing of 'New York, New York', good choices of love songs ... but ultimately for me, this film doesn't quite match up to the hype. The lead characters are not that unusual, perhaps. They are certainly not sympathetic. I wasn't emotionally engaged with them, but I wasn't shocked either - Brandon's sexual adventures just left me cold by the end of the film.

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