Hunger Directed by: Steven McQueen Cast: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham, Liam McMahon, Time: 1 hr 36 mins Rating: Unrated
Plot: An urgently told story about prisoners confined in Northern Ireland’s H-Blocks in the early 1980s. Despite having had happened a quarter century ago, these infamous tales of torture hit alarmingly close to home in the wake of recent events related to the world-wide war on terror. This story is about young men of a different era, led by Bobby Sands, who undergo a 1981 Hunger Strike in the fight for their human rights amidst an era of nearly unimaginable tyrannical rule.
Who’s It For? Anyone who is a self-proffesed history buff, but who also requires strong authenticity in the retellings. This film cuts close to the bone, and is not for adolescent-laden history classrooms. While McQueen delivers a powerful political film about the strength of humanity vs. brutality and blind hate, he also deems it necessary to show us everything that goes along with that kind of horror.
Expectations: This is a Film Festival buzz film. People had been talking about this film at these events world wide, and it isn’t until you see it that you decide it's warranted gossip. It’s difficult to make a compelling “based on a true story” type of film without glimmering it up a bit for Hollywood. The sheer distress of those imprisoned is brought nightmarishly to life, and you had better arrive prepared to have your jaw drop.
Actors: Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands: It’s rare a relative unknown can cast such a spell on his viewers. Sands blends the courage and will to succeed with the utter fear of death so convincingly its tough to not want to make sure it’s just an act. As the ringleader of Ireland’s Republican uprising, Fassbender gets across much more than the ability to wear the make up of a man we’re supposed to believe has had his beliefs beaten out of him. Though the film takes a while to introduce him as The Guy, his eventual self-inflicted deterioration reminds me of Christian Bale’s gaunt presence in The Machinist, though it pulls you in even more when you’re forced to remember someone actually did this. Score: 9
Liam Cunningham as The Priest: Though not one of the imprisoned, Cunningham shares a wealth of the screen time with Fassbender in an extended visiting room conversation that has to be seen to be believed. This is obviously shot in one take, and looks more like Police Station video footage, than a theatrical presentation. When you’re asked to show us a character’s strengths and weaknesses in only one scene, you had better bring some versatility. Though a priest is largely considered a two-sided monolithic creature (Faith/Love), what you see in his performance is a man scared for his friend’s life, but too impressed by his will to tell him not to do something. I call this pursed tension. You’ll probably call it brilliant. Score: 8
Stuart Graham as Ray Lohan: Graham showcases a restrained portrayal of a prison guard whose callused knuckles provide more inside information than his words ever could. Based on Graham’s stoic gaze and lethargic flick of a cigarette, it’s easy to hypothesize what he could have done with more to… do. Though it’s fair to say more is said with less here, the jarring volume Ray creates with silence leaves you wanting more of an explanation about his thoughts on the situation. You’re not sure whether he enjoys beating these revolutionaries senseless, or hates what he’s become as a result of it. Score: 6
Liam McMahon as Gerry Campbell: Some people have a face for character acting. McMahon is one of those dudes. Though he may never viably compete for a leading man role, McMahon’s eyes gaze at desolation better than Brad Pitt’s ever could. You believe he’s terrified, but too tired and broken to retaliate victoriously. He looks like a prisoner, and has the chops to stand and breathe like one. Score: 7
Talking: Little is said throughout, and rightfully so. This is a film about the space between words, and how much can be said without them. Noise is best used to depict the monster of hate in the ritual prisoner-beatings that break down the lives of those held captive. The only exception comes in the Bobby Sands/Priest conversation that lays down all the cards the prisoners have held so close to their chests in the scenes leading up to it. In other words, all dialogue is used only when necessary, and as a result, becomes brutally effective and telling. Score: 7
Sights & Sounds: This is a story about people who believe so strongly in their cause, they’d rather live naked in filth , than clothed in luxury. When you are in there with them confined by walls they’ve decorated with fecal protest, it’s almost as if the aroma of their causes is eating away at your nostrils. In the moments when they are dragged from their hell-homes, the sounds of their feeble bodies hitting the floor when struck calls to mind the reality audience members could only realize in awful dreams. With every smack, and whimper comes the strength of rebellion despite it’s ever-weakening practitioners. Score: 8
OVERALL When a man decides to direct films, he usually is thrust into the position of making mindless trash. This is Steve McQueen’s (no, not the star of The Getaway, and the king of 1970s cool) first effort, and you’re not going to find a more ambitious beginning than Hunger. There must come a certain allotted fear with making yourself responsible for telling us a tale as dreary as this one. Though the story runs on a bit longer than it has to (despite coming in at under two hours), the documentary-feel of its presentation gives us a objective look at an era we’re too far removed from to otherwise know about. This is a movie about the importance of freedom, and the lengths to which men go in order to restore it. This movie is not for everyone, but suitably made for those willing to stomach it. One bit of advice: Not a first date film.
Final Score: 7/10