CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Phwooooar! Get a load of this! Actually, no. Much of the advance word on this film has concerned the full nudity and frank sex scenes, but those going into the movie should know - or they'll find out pretty quickly - that it's not a sex film, it's not a porn film and it's emphatically not an erotic film. For a start the most casual of the frontal nudity is Michael Fassbender and it's probably this as much as the less graphic coupling and tripling sequences that secured the film an NC-17 rating in the States. To be fair, they get the dong shots out of the way fairly early on rather than sprinkling them throughout, presumably so you can, er, get the measure of the movie and not have it distract you from the drama later on.
Shame tells of Brandon (Fassbender), a man entirely uninterested in relationships or emotional commitments, he's only interested in, obsessed by, and addicted to sex. A top executive doing unspecified things at an unspecified company (it's not made clear but it doesn't really matter), he devotes a significant amount of his working time and all of his leisure time to sex, porn, hookers, online webcams, adult magazines, picking up strangers on the train, in bars, wherever and whenever. It's all under control and he has no shame about it (even when his office hard drive is taken away by the IT department and found to be groaning with porn videos), but things start to change when his more spirited, more emotional, more alive sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) turns up uninvited to stay with him. Each of them is all they really have, but her presence is disrupting his entire existence of cold, deadening, meaningless sex....
It's an interesting film but it's far too austere. Just as Brandon doesn't feel anything, neither do we. Presumably we're not supposed to, but then that makes it tougher to get involved in the drama. Nor, I suspect, are we supposed to like Brandon very much, and the arrival of Sissy makes him even less pleasant company. Only at the end does he literally break down like a regular human being would: before that he's not just an inhuman shag machine, he's one that he's really not much fun to be around. So really, why are we expected to want to spend an hour and forty with him?
On a technical level it's much better: loosely put together with very long takes and almost no music, although some of the cinematography is a bit odd, occasionally putting Fassbender right at the edge of an otherwise blank widescreen image. Despite me being lukewarm about it, I'm still glad it's getting national distribution and taking screens away from the dying Christmas blockbusters (it would have been so easy to leave Happy Feet 2 running for another week). It's very cold, and it's not a great film, but it's worth seeing.