Film review: Shame

Carey Mulligans greatest strength as an actress is that shes good at looking. This talent first announced itself in An Education; some of that films loveliest moments occur when Mulligan looks out at rooms filled with dancing and music and life, wordlessly conveying the nervous enchantment of a child entering an adult world for the first time.

Mulligan is one of the most empathetic actresses working today, with the power to make the audience understand the depth and root of her emotions and to make them feel those emotions at the same time.


More recently Mulligan has put her innate looking-at-things skill to use in Drive, where she and Ryan Gosling develop a thrilling, utterly believable attraction whilst doing little more than just looking at each other. Without the need for snappy dialogue or laboured music cues, the film perfectly captures what it’s like to meet someone who makes you giddy just from the sight of them, someone whom you just can’t stop looking at. Their courtship gives a strange sort of validation for the ultraviolence that follows, providing it with context and motivation.

Mulligan has a further opportunity to look meaningfully in Shame, the Steve McQueen-directed sex addiction drama in which she co-stars with Michael Fassbender. As the bruised-but-merry Sissy, her significant looks are employed to depict the sadness which stems from her fraught, transgressive relationship with her brother Brandon (Fassbender). Their maladjusted relationship is the core of the film and defines them both; expressing itself through Sissy’s self-harm and Brandon’s unquenchable need for sex.


It seems strange to focus on Mulligan‘s role, excellent as she is in it, when Fassbender appears in every scene of the film and gives such a bold, mesmeric performance (as long as he continues to have such good taste in projects, he will surely become one of the key actors of his generation).

The connection to Mulligan’s looks of developing emotions is relevant, however, as Brandon in Shame uses those same looks for more malign purposes. In an early scene of the film he makes eye contact with a woman on the subway, sharing flirtatious glances. Like Mulligan in Drive he just can’t look away, but here it’s a trick: one of the many subtle ways in which he gets women interested in him. She thinks that he’s making some fleeting yet deep connection, when he’s really trying to position her into giving him what he wants.


Shame is less a film about having a sex addiction than it is about having that addiction whilst looking like Michael Fassbender and having the intelligence to manipulate situations for your own benefit. It’s a study of a man who wants something constantly and has the ability to obtain it, again and again, and again and again and again, until there’s nothing of him left but his need.

Shame is being screened as part of the 55th BFI London Film Festival. Find out more information on the film here.

18/10/2011film review: we need to talk about kevinjason wardfilm review: we need to talk about kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin is Lynne Ramsay’s third feature film. She made her debut with Ratcatcher in 1999, which she followed up with Morvern Callar in 2002, and now in 2011 We Need to Talk About Kevin is being released. That’s nine years between her second and third films. It seems like quite a while.

To make an unfair comparison, Woody Allen made nine films during that same period. To make an even more unfair comparison, the Beatles were together for nine years and managed to record 12 albums, 13 EPs and star in four films. Between 2002 and 2011 Ramsay has made one 112-minute feature, which works out at about a minute per month. The obvious question to ask is, well, what was she doing during all that time?


The story behind the answer is a torturous one. Years spent working on an adaptation of The Lovely Bones were for nothing when the book became a big success and the project was taken from her to be given to Peter Jackson. After recovering and slowly adapting We Need to Talk About Kevin, the production’s funding fell through, requiring a complete rewrite. Over nine years setback after setback beset Ramsay, and the result is nearly a decade lost to the making of a single film.