Hunger * * * * *

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Director: Steve McQueen.
Screenplay: Steve McQueen, Enda Walsh.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Liam McMahon, Brian Milligan, Stuart Graham, Karen Hassan, Helen Madden, Des McAleer, Frank McCusker, Rory Mullen.

In 2011, “Shame” was released. It was a powerful piece of cinema and one of the most provocative and controversial film’s of the year. It was also one of the very best. But if you look back to 2008 and this previous collaboration with director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender, you’ll realise that provocative and hard-hitting filmmaking is something these two, seemingly excel at.

In Northern Ireland, 1981, Irish revolutionary inmates in the Maze prison begin a protest to attain political status and not to be seen as criminals. Their demands are refused by the British Government so one man, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), leads a hunger strike. This was a defiant act against tyrannical British rule and one that would reverberate internationally.

I find it hard to be subjective in my views of the atrocities that the British Government imposed upon the Irish revolutionary movement. I’m disgusted and appalled at some of the parliamentary decisions and I make no excuses for my prejudices toward Margaret Thatcher either. The hunger strike of 1981, is a shameful and atrocious piece of history, of which, she was at the forefront. It’s a time in history that many will want to forget, but here, director Steve McQueen paints a vivid and unflinching portrayal of these harsh times and conditions. He starts by informing us that 2,187 people have been killed in “the troubles” since 1969 and that the British Govt have withdrawn the political status of all paramilitary prisoners. Irish republicans in the Maze Prison are on a ‘blanket’ and ‘no wash’ protest. We are then introduced to a prison guard, bathing his bloodied knuckles in water. Primarily, the warden we follow seems to be torn and struggling. However, it’s soon apparent that these prison wardens are only upholding the state, so sympathy wains. There is a struggle at heart here and the British Govt has a lot to answer for. Rearing her ugly head, Margaret Thatcher is overheard on a radio broadcast, refusing to accept any form of “political or criminal violence”. Anyone familiar with her time in office will be aware of her sheer hypocrisy here. She was known as “The Iron Lady“, no better than a fascist and throughout her time in power, was the very catalyst for many wrongdoings. My opinion may come across as biased but the atrocities that these young men faced in the fight for freedom is abhorrent. What this film has in it’s ultimate favour though, is that it doesn’t preach. It states the facts and for this, McQueen deserves the utmost credit and respect. Despite the grim material, we are afforded moments of artistic beauty; McQueen lingers long on shots and uses dialogue sparsely. At one point though, he film’s a highly impressive 22-minute conversation about semantics and political rhetoric and does 16-minutes of it without cuts. It’s a bold move that could stop the film in it’s tracks but actually, what it does, is reinforce the belief that this is a highly artistic and confident filmmaker you are witnessing. He even takes his time (about half an hour) to introduce our protagonist Bobby Sands and it’s here, he is aided immeasurably by his lead actor; Michael Fassbender’s transformation from a passionate healthy prisoner to one of starved frailty is astonishing and it’s easy to see why he made a name for himself after this. He truly is one of the very best and bravest actors around at present.
Rarely have political drama’s been so raw, unnerving and emotionally devastating. This is by no means easy viewing but it’s certainly important and essential viewing and it heralded the arrival of a visionary director and intense performer.

McQueen manages that rare achievement of delivering a piece of work that is both brutal and harsh yet touching and quite beautiful. This is raw and unflinching material that is told candidly and without reservation. Simply stunning.

Mark Walker

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19 Responses to “Hunger * * * * *”

  1. Man, that sounds really, really good. I need to see this.
    When I’ve read about ‘the troubles’, Cat Stevens song immediately springs to mind. There are some parts in the history that I really can’t understand. How anyone can NOT love Irish people? Not that long ago, Irish people came to my country for Euro. They are mega nice and the way they root for their team… Priceless. What I mean by all that: I cannot understand why England treated Ireland the way they did. (and I’m not talking here about some political stuff – it’s more about being a human being)

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    • I totally agree man. On a human level how can such atrocities happen? I’m actually Scottish and share a great affinity with my Irish Celtic neighbours. We are very similar types of people but if truth be told, some Scots were also involved in this. It makes me ashamed to even be associated with this kind of barbarism.
      The film itself is an absolute masterpiece. I can’t praise it enough. This and most recently, SHAME have become two new favourites of mine. I can’t wait for the next McQueen and Fassbender collaboration.

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  2. I love this film so much. If you can say you LOVE something this hard to watch.

    The long take scene with the monologue, the running the gauntlet scene, the sweeping the urine… all amazingly shot from a director that is well on his way to being a modern day Auteur even after only 2 features!!

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    • I hear you man. It’s an astonishing film. I had actually seen when it was released and really liked it but think I blocked a lot of it out. A rewatch was always on the cards and it ranks as one of my favourites now.
      These three scenes you mention are sublime and I totally agree with your opinion on McQueen. He’s got a 100% record in my eyes so far.

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  3. I’ve been meaning to check this out. I don’t think I’ll be seeing SHAME but this one does sound very intriguing. Great review, Mark!

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    • Thanks Ruth. It’s definitely worthy of attention. It’s became a new favourite of mine along with Shame. Both are very hard-hitting film’s but absolutely superb. Fassbender is the actor to contend with these days. Nobody is taking their performances to his limits. As for McQueen, he’s proven in only two film’s, to be a force to be reckoned with.

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  4. Great review looks like a pretty hard hitting film

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    • Very hard-hitting Vinnie but worth every minute of it. If you’ve seen Shame, you’ll get the idea of it’s style. If not, put them both at the top of your wishlist.

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  5. That unbroken 10+ minute take blows my mind every time.

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    • Indeed! It a marvellous moment. Like I mention in my write-up, it’s a moment that could stop the movie dead in it’s tracks but actually comes across as captivating. I just love this film. I can’t fault it.

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  6. Excellent review, Mark. Shame was a great film so I’ll try to check out Fassbender and McQueen’s previous collaboration. We both know they can deliver.

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  7. Thanks for the review. I have been hearing about this film now is the time to watch it. Loved Shame too…

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  8. Great review. ‘Hunger’ is an amazing film. I sympathize with the Irish 100%, and appalled about the actions of the British government at the time. Incidentally, I started writing review on this film too about a week ago, but apart from mentioning a background story and throwing words like ‘inspirational’ and ‘brave’ in it I did not get far. It seems that mere words cannot communicate all the artistic merit this film deserves.

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    • I totally agree. When I wrote down my thoughts, I actually went on one and delved more into the struggle. It started to sound more like a rant and very opinionated, so I had to erase a lot of stuff and focus more on the film itself. I couldn’t resist mentioning a bit about my personal feelings on the subject but it would have been a lot worse if I’d stuck to my original draft.

      There’s certainly no denying the film’s artistic merit though. Regardless of what side of the fence you sit on. It’s a powerful and affecting piece of work. No doubt about it.

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  9. Superb review Mark of one of the greatest films I have ever seen. I am going to watch it again very soon. Every scene in the movie is perfect. I will never forget how terrifying I found the riot scene the first time I saw it. Those senseless, mindless beatings. One of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in a film.

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    • Thanks Tyler. I couldn’t agree more man. Such a powerful and unrelenting film. I had seen it years ago but didn’t fully appreciate it until I watched it again recently. I found myself getting very angry throughout the senseless brutality these men faced.
      McQueen and Fassbender are certainly a duo to be reckoned with.

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