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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Shame

April 17th, 2012

Shame - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack

Shame was made to win Oscars, I don't think there's any doubt about that. It debuted in limited release in early December, which is the perfect time to release an Award Season player. It was rated NC-17, so it was clearly not going for a mainstream audience. However, while the film earned a number of film festival and critic association awards, it was almost entirely passed over by the major awards voters earning just one Independent Spirit Award nomination. On the other hand, many thought Michael Fassbender was a leading contender for at least a Best Actor Oscar nomination. So was this film passed over because of its subject matter? Or was it merely a good movie, but not an Award-worthy movie? Or maybe it was over-hyped?

The Movie

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, whom we see at the beginning of the movie flirting a lot of women, having sex with prostitutes, with himself, ignoring his sister's repeated phone calls. Brandon works for a successful business and is earning a good salary, but he lives alone and fills his life with meaningless sexual encounters. One day after work, he goes to a bar with his boss, David, and some of his co-workers, to celebrate a successful business transaction. He tries to help his boss hook up with a woman, but after his boss goes home, he hooks up with her instead having sex on the side of a building. When Brandon returns home to his apartment, he hears music playing before he even opens the door. Worried someone has broken into his apartment, he grabs a baseball bat and checks the place out, only to catch his sister, Sissy, in the shower. Probably should have answered her phone calls.

Brandon isn't happy Sissy has come to stay with him for a while. It's hard to watch internet porn while your sister is having a meltdown while talking to her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend on the phone. He does agree to let her stay a few days, and even agrees to see her sing, something he's avoided in the past. He probably would have avoided it this time around as well, but he mentioned it to his boss, and David thinks it's a great idea and invites himself to go along. After hearing Sissy sing, David is very forward in his flirting, but this time it pays off, which is even more awkward for Brandon than when he walked in on his sister in the shower, especially since his boss is married.

This starts to affect Brandon's life, for as cold and cut off as Brandon is, Sissy is equally needy. For both, this is the result of something bad in their childhood and while Sissy wants the comfort of family, Brandon just doesn't want to be reminded. He's cut himself out of emotional relationships to avoid being hurt. Her being there is causing his addictions to start to spiral out of control and it isn't long before something snaps.

I'm of two minds of this movie. On the one hand, both Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give amazing performances in this film. I'm not surprised the two of them earned so many nominations at film festivals and critic associations. Additionally, the film is artfully made with plenty of care taken to create a film that hammers home the themes of isolation. On the other hand, even fans of the film have to admit its pacing is deliberate while the main character is so emotionally cold and distant that it is hard to become too involved in the film. It it weren't for his relationship with Sissy, I wouldn't have given a damn about Brandon's life or his troubles with sex addiction. As it is, I did think the film is worth watching, especially for the acting by the two leads, but it is not something I'm going to set aside time to watch again. That's not a ringing endorsement, but to emphasize, it is worth watching for the performances even if the replay value is lower because of the subject matter.

The Extras

The film is only coming out on a Blu-ray / DVD Combo pack, so there's no decision regarding standard definition or high definition. Although there is a video on demand release for those who are into that. As for the extras, there are five featurettes, but the longest of them is just over five minutes long. They talk about the lead actor, the director, the lead actor and the director working together, the story, and a Fox Movie Channel Presents featurette. This is not a lot, even for a limited release. The audio and video are excellent, given the nature of the film and its production budget. This is not a visually stunning film and a lot of the movie lacks a colorful palette, for instance. Likewise, the audio is always clear, but you don't get a lot of activity in the rear speakers.

The Verdict

Shame is worth watching, but the lack of substantial extras on the Blu-ray Combo Pack limits its overall value. Perhaps for some it would be better to rent it with Video on Demand.

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Filed under: Video Review, Shame