This is a stunning, unnerving and powerful film about the religious and political circumstances leading to the death, by self-starvation of Bobby Sands in 1981. Sands was the first of ten hunger-strikers to die at Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland and this film, superbly directed by Steve McQueen, reimagines the days leading to his death. It also examines, forcefully, the police environment surrounding that death and the way in which violence creates its own violent repercussions. This is a very good movie.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
70 of 79 people found the following review helpful
A stunning debut film with a very important subject - the 1981 hunger strike by IRA leader Bobby Sands in the Maze PrisonDec 29 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
In spite of the care and patient control with which this powerful film is shot and edited, "Hunger" is a deeply visceral and moving film, featuring a brilliant performance by Michael Fassbender in the lead role. There are scenes of violent and intense brutality here, but what is more powerful are the simple shots, of a face, of a look, of a gesture, washing hands, of sores on the back of a dying prisoner. While the film is based on real events, with deep political ramifications, the film itself is not so much political as a plea for humanity, that sides with the wounded sensitivity detected in the eyes of those guards who had been unable to desensitize themselves to the routinely brutal treatment they gave to the prisoners in an effort to break their spirits, as much as it sides with the humanity in the dehumanized IRA prisoners it depicts.
The film details the horrific prison conditions that motivated IRA leader Bobby Sands to begin a hunger strike in 1981, that led to his death and that of 8 other prisoners, but also eventually won some concessions for the IRA prisoners, that they had been unable to achieve in any other way. The film opens on one of the guards, washing his hands of the violence he'd inflicted on a prisoner but also unable to wash away his own sense of culpability and fear, and, later, unable to build a connection with the other guards who seem more immune to what they do.
It isn't until about a third of the way through the film that we are introduced to Bobby Sands, who is clearly something of a leader among the men, and it isn't until the final third of the film that Sands takes center stage, and embarks upon the hunger strike that gives the film its title. This is not so much his story as the story of a situation, that affected all who were involved in a number of ways. There is very little in the way of back story here - it is all about the immediacy of the situation, in which the past is mostly irrelevant and what matters is the continuation of the struggle for recognition, as something other than common criminals. What I found fascinating (and brilliantly depicted here) was the core paradox of their prison rebellion: that in order to win recognition as human beings and soldiers whose cause was unpopular but not evil, that in their struggle for equality, they had to debase themselves, to reject clothing, to smear feces on the walls in protest, to exploit and attack their own bodies as a demonstration of the inhumanity of their treatment.
The film is told mostly through carefully controlled visuals, chiaroscuro with a wide range of tonality between the darkest darks and the brightest whites and colors, with a minimum of dialogue, except during a powerful and lengthy exchange between Sands and a priest about his decision to embark on a new hunger strike, and his willingness to take it all the way. While director Steve McQueen (no relation to the actor) has a very distinctive style, his approach here reminded me somewhat of Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped. Both films tell their story in a minimalist style, with carefully controlled framings that show only what is necessary to capture the impact of events, leaving aside all that is superfluous. The camera frames bodies and faces very tightly, in medium and close shots, inside the actual prison cells, and only opens up more wide to convey the depth of the prison corridor, or to contrast the openness of the visitor's room or the out of doors with the closed off nature of the cells.
Apart from being overwhelmed by the intensity and importance of the subject matter - this is a story that needed to be told, from inside, and I can't imagine a better telling than this - apart from all that I was stunned by the power of the filmmaking. This is one of the most impressive directorial efforts I've seen in a long time, and an amazing debut by Steve McQueen, and I expect it will be recognized as one of the most important films of this decade by the film historians who care about substance and style over commercialism and buzz. This is definitely one to have for the library of the film lover who likes to study films; there's a lot to learn here. I can't say how happy I am that Criterion is doing the releasing on this one.
Here's what to expect on the disc: * New, restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Steve McQueen (with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition) * Video interviews with McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender * A short documentary on the making of Hunger, including interviews with McQueen, Fassbender, actors Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham, and Brian Milligan, writer Enda Walsh, and producer Robin Gutch * "The Provo's Last Card?" a 1981 episode of the BBC program Panorama, about the causes and effects of the IRA hunger strikes at the Maze prison and the political and civilian reactions across Northern Ireland * Theatrical trailer * A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Chris Darke
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Stunning and practically unmatchableFeb. 3 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
This is hands down one of the best films of the past decade for me. "Visual Artist" Steve McQueen captures a sense of humanity in a way that few directors seem to be in touch with, telling a powerful story in a fashion that most are afraid to.
There is very little dialogue - and the dialogue that exists comes in spouts like an 18-minute long scene where the camera stays still and doesn't cut away at all. It could have easily been pretentious, but it is not in the least. McQueen has proven himself just by this one instance to be an extraordinary visionary that knows how to tell a story vividly without having to "tell" it. Did I mention the cinematography is gorgeous? Practically everything in "Hunger" is honed to perfection, and Michael Fassbinder's gruelingly tangible performance shows human deterioration at its most believable.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Stunning cinematography and performancesMarch 9 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Hunger tackles a difficult and controversial subject. At times its not easy viewing but all the better a film for that. Best known as a photographer (until this) Steve McQueens debut feature is original, beautiful, sparse and the cast, art direction and cinematography are simply outstanding.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Based on the true storyApril 26 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Hunger is a film based on the true story of the 1981 hunger strike by Northern Irish prisoners seeking political prisoner status.
The film is made by British director, Steve McQueen (no relation to actor.) It is his first film.
The film can be difficult to watch due to graphic scenes of emaciation (which were real and done under the supervision of physicians), prison violence and depictions of the "dirty protest." The film includes archival audio of Margaret Thatcher speaking about the crisis.
The special features are very good too. There is a theatrical trailer, documentary on the film's production, Interviews with director McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender, and a 1981 BBC episode of Panorama, about the real life crisis. This BBC program is very good and includes interviews with figures from both sides of the debates related Troubles. Interview subjects include Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley.
This film while graphic is quite authentic and depicts an important part of British and Irish history.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The Hunger ArtistApril 25 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Hunger does what it says on the tin,it abstracts from a polemical,ideological situation about hunger strikes in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in 1981 and removes the heat of the local personalities and history of the time, and gives us a film based on the individual humanity and decisions of individuals based at a stressful time.We get the essence without the controversy,coming as it does 27 years after the events described.We also get a film maker who has come from making video art works into the strange world of film making with all its taboos and shibboleths.Bobby Sands is the central character but doesn't come in until 35 minutes into the film.So the performance does not shout:this is Bobby Sands,he arrives as an organic part of the central and last triptychs.The films tripartite structure moves through the physical-the sheer claustrophobic hell of physical beatings,to the ideas at the heart of the motivation behind the hunger strike in the immaculate boxing match dialogue,to the wasting away of a human body in its last defence against an all powerful state.
The film opens with taking us through the daily rituals of Officer Lohan(Graham) as he prepares himself for another day's work in prison.He is lonely,suffers stress,we see crumbs dropping as he eats his breakfast.We see him smoking outside and snowflakes falling on his bloodied knuckles.As he leaves and opens his front gate like a prison door,he searches under his car for any bomb devices.In the Maze we see the admission process of another prisoner Brian and his refusal to wear prison uniform,and his receipt of a blanket as he is lead to his cell.Inside his cell, walls smeared with faeces greet him and he is met by Davey.There are scenes where the blanket protest is followed by the `dirty' protest,where prisoners object to having the status of `political prisoner' removed,they smear their cell walls with faeces or they empty their urine under their cell doors into the main corridor where it meets other streams of urine. Also the prisoners don't wash,let their hair grow long, leave food to rot on the cell floor. Every so often the men are pulled out of their cells and made to run the gauntlet of officers in full armoury as they run naked under the blows that rain down on them or they are forcibly scrubbed in a bath by several warders,hair cut.All the prisoners want is to be able to wear their own clothes, freely associate,receive letters and parcels once a week and not be treated like criminals.They have to resort to smuggling thingslike radio receivers up their anus from visitors or concealing paper notes in their mouths.The prison officers,often of the UDA,resent the conditions and stress of their work and the anxiety of being killed themselves as Lohan is when he visitshis dementing mother in an old people's home.Sixteen in all were killed at the time.We get the cold hand of the state with an implacable disembodied voice of Margaret Thatcher on radio.
The central unexpected part of the film is a static two takes 22 minute dialogue shot backlit in the visitors room between Sands(Fassbender) and Father Moran (Cunningham).Before this everything had been filmed without dialogue, setting the context of the dysfunction and degradation of the prison environment.Now Sands goes head- to-head in an argument with the priest .They both start off bantering,then talk of their respective childhoods,Sands telling Moran how he became a leader. They move into more serious gear with Moran arguing that he is speaking to a dead man,why not value his life and family more? Sands wants to be a martyr like Pearse.Sands showing the steel in his determination to go through with the hunger strike to the death as leader of many more.This scene is remarkably intense and has our full attention.There is rhythm as the two dance around,testing each other's mettle.Following this scene there is a warder clearing the corridor of urine,laying down disinfectant,pushing it forward with a squeegee in slow,methodical strokes.This scene is impressive as he moves from one end to the camera at the other where the viewer is. The repetition and the movement serve to underline the dialogue scene.They both take place in real time and help us absorb what has happened.
The final part of the film has a different tone:it is about Sands slowly starving to death over 66 days, so he becomes an emaciated ghost.This largely takes place in the hospital section of the prison in one room.Time passing suggested by meals brought,taken away and replaced by other uneaten meals.As he is lifted there are suggestions of him being like a Christ figure.There are flashbacks to his childhood.As he lies in bed a feather glides down poignantly in one shot,which seems heavier than him.McQueen has spoken of the difficulty of watching even actors beating other actors,where he did the prison beating scene in 6 takes.He also sent Fassbinder away for 10 weeks to diet severely to 58 kg.Due to the trust he created on the film set what he asked of his actors they delivered like performance artists of extreme authenticity.So the camaraderie amongst the film crew was high. Because he is primarily an artist he also evokes the material nature of the faeces,the urine,the physicality of being beaten and starvation,the claustrophobic enclosure and terror.The film was made in N.Ireland.The only thing missing is the collective camaraderie of the prisoners,the singing of songs,the noise.He gives you the minimum of information and mostly lets the images speak,gives the desperation of using the human body as the ultimate form of protest.Shortof narrative the film as body installation speaks more eloquently of that time.A ritualistic tragedy abstracted into art.