Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Best British Films: 16. Hunger

Hunger features the third incredible performance from Michael Fassbender I've seen in a matter of months. This actor is destined for big things. Here he plays Bobby Sands, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer leading the 1981 Irish hunger strike in an effort to win political status for Republican prisoners. The British state - represented by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - refused to budge until the death toll from the hunger strike climbed to 10. The film takes place in the six weeks leading up to the first death.

First-time director Steve McQueen is unrelenting in his vivid and brutal portrayal of prison conditions for these men. The men are cruelly beaten, shaved, and washed. They eat nothing and live in their own waste. Contact with their familes is brief and heavily supervised. McQueen honestly depicts this, and the resolve of these men to remain on strike despite all of these elements is overwhelming. Hunger wouldn't work without it's powerhouse cast. These men live in desperation, but not once do we sense a wavering in their dedication to fight for their rights.

Fassbender in particular shows an unbelievable commitment to the film. In his final scenes he is so excrutiatingly thin that it's hard to look at him. Bobby Sands lacked the strength to stand, to walk, and finally to breathe.

Hunger is a beautiful but merciless film about grim determination in troubled times. There's a scene in which Sands discusses the morality and potential outcomes of his hunger strike with a priest. There is a seventeen-minute single shot on the two of these men as they talk at a table. It's incredibly long, but the scene is rivetting, thanks to dialogue that's perfectly-written and revealing.

A stunning debut from director McQueen that guarantees more great things on his horizon. ****/4


Ciaran O'Brien said...

Couldn't agree more. This was one of my favourites last year and Fassbender is quickly becoming a hero of mine. Having shot scripted drama it makes you really appreciate the monumental effort that goes into a single shot take like that.

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