Screenwriters: Enda Walsh, Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham
Running time: 95 mins
Steve McQueen's stunning tale of the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike is a brutal depiction of one man's determination to die for a cause - a notion that bears great contemporary significance given the current global situation. Blending powerful realism with abstract visuals, Hunger is not a pleasant viewing experience, but a most worthwhile one.
Stark imagery rather than dialogue establishes the harsh environment of a 1981 prison in Northern Ireland, with the chilling silence offering no respite from confronting the physical and emotional torture on show. In acute detail, McQueen shows us the weeping, bloodied knuckles of a prison officer trying to do his job and escape being dehumanised. At the same time, you can almost smell and feel the squalid confines of the cells in which the mistreated prisoners live, with the camera often dwelling on the food- and fluid-splattered texture of the walls.
As defiant IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, Michael Fassbender's Oscar-worthy performance propels the film into masterpiece status. Plaudits shouldn't just be thrown at him for the shocking weight loss he achieved for the role, because he also manages to expose the psychological rawness and resilience of a man who pushes himself to the limits - and beyond. Using powerful understatement and blazing eyes that defy the rest of his withering body, one can't help but admire his earnest battle to do the right thing. This showcases an uplifting triumph for the human spirit despite the concurrent horrific repercussions on his body.
An extended sequence of dialogue punctuates the heart of the film, as Sands discusses his stance with a sympathetic priest Father Dominic Moran (the always-brilliant Liam Cunningham). Both men sit at the table armed with their respective political and religious beliefs, and the verbal duel is utterly compelling. Just like the sound of the riot officers battering their batons against their shields violently shatter the silence, this scene hammers home the crux of the movie.
For a film so rooted in a political struggle, Hunger wisely steers clear of any overt dogmatism and encourages the viewer to create their own interpretations. Archive audio clips of Margaret Thatcher speeches hardly do anything to promote the decency of the British government's actions, but life is depicted as horrible for the prison officers as well, albeit in different ways. One particularly poignant shot of a riot officer lingers long in the mind, as he is depicted hiding behind a wall, crying, as his colleagues smash up the defiant and naked inmates.
Very much an engaging and active cinematic experience, Hunger will leave you feeling emotionally battered and bruised - yet emerging from the cinema a stronger person for having witnessed such a beautiful and brutal film.
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