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Movie Review: 'Shame' -- 2.5 stars

Michael Fassbender plays a sex addict in Steve

Michael Fassbender plays a sex addict in Steve McQueen’s “Shame.” Credit: Michael Fassbender plays a sex addict in Steve McQueen’s “Shame.”

2.5 stars
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie
Rated NC-17

"Shame" offers an uncompromising look at sex addiction, achieving the impressive feat of making wall-to-wall fornication seem like a torturous experience for the addicted. It's an existential nightmare - a relentless first-person journey through compulsive misery.

Yet British filmmaker Steve McQueen is unable to impose a deeper meaning onto this superficial set-up. We are left with the empty experience of watching an addicted man living a sterile life, suffering with no hope of redemption in sight.

With its long takes, odd camera angles and endless sex scenes, the movie delves into the disoriented mind of protagonist Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), a high-powered Manhattan executive overwhelmed by his carnal desires.

We watch as Brandon succumbs to one temptation after another - Internet porn, threesomes, escorts and more. His estranged sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), interrupts this hermetic pursuit of sexual gratification, much to Brandon's panicked chagrin.

McQueen, who worked with Fassbender on the compelling "Hunger," gets a fine performance out of his star. The actor is adept at making the silences resonate, subtly contorting his features to imbue Brandon's attractive exterior with a strong sense of unease.

At the same time, Mulligan, fiercely unhinged, gives the production its most tangible sense of humanity, though her much-hyped rendition of "New York, New York" goes on way too long..

In the end, however, "Shame" unfolds in a highfalutin world sapped of feeling. It's a soulless, distancing portrait set against a bland elite Manhattan universe of sleek high-rises and glamorous bars, all of them filled with contemptible personalities. In other words, it's the sort of slimy environment to avoid rather than subject oneself to it for nearly two hours.

While Brandon might be forever stuck in that morass, you need not share his fate.

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