Nov 19, 2008

Hunger

"Hunger" is a cinematic experience of the highest order. A must see film, a startling and stark presentation of the heart of man. The true story of the Maze Prison hunger strikes of the early 1980s is superb in every way. First class acting, exquisite photography and artful and caring direction are on full display. This film pulls no punches, but it is told with such heart and truth that it leaves an impression that lasts long in the memory.

Steve McQueen's directorial debut is a startling beginning. His approach is minimalist, yet expansive. He keeps the action to a minimum, with the majority of the film taking place inside the Maze Prison, with many scenes containing next to no dialogue. But the film is shot with such width and beauty, that you feel you are watching a very big film. It is certainly a film of enormous substance. It begins in 1981. "The Troubles" have been occurring in Northern Ireland for over 12 years, costing over 2,000 people their precious lives. We begin with prison guard Ray Lohan (Stuart Graham), who quietly prepares for work. His unpopular occupation leads him to check his car each day for any explosives. At his place of work, Maze Prison, IRA activist Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) begins his six year prison sentence. At the time, all IRA prisoners were refusing to wear prison clothing and also bathe. They wanted to be recognised as political prisoners, which the British government refused to do. After many scenes of showing the prisoners undergoing degredation and punishment we move, ultimately, to the story of one man. Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), heroic yet totally vulnerable.

Sands decides that a hunger strike is the most certain way for the IRA prisoners to be heard. We see a remarkable twenty minute scene with Father Moran (Liam Cunningham) where the two debate the merits of a hunger strike. This much lauded scene, shot in one take, crystalises the politics of the film. It provides arguments on both sides, giving a balanced and non polemic objectivity to the film. The scenes that follow, as the hunger strike goes on, are disturbing, saddening and very emotional. Ultimately this film's biggest success is in not just portraying the dire consequences of the time but providing a visceral human side to the turbulent politics of the era. Fassbender is quite remarkable as the stoic Sands. Not only in his enormous weight loss for the role, but in his inner strength and solidity he brings to the role. As stated, despite the harsh material, this is an almost poetic looking film. There are many shots of quietly understated beauty, filmed with assured skill. This astounding piece of cinema is required viewing.

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