Steve McQueen’s (this guy, not this guy) Hunger is nearly perfect. Yes, that’s a mighty big statement, but it’s true. This is cinema at it’s finest: engaging, brutally honest, devastatingly elegant. It’s not an easy film to watch. Ergo, those that don’t like challenging subject matter might not share this opinion, but it doesn’t really matter.
The success of this film is all the more impressive when considering that it came from a first time director/writer (although Enda Walsh is also given a writing credit here). The story takes place in 1981, in a prison called Maze in northern Ireland. It centers around Bobby Sands (click here to check out the wikipedia page on the real Sands), and the events surrounding his hunger strike in an effort for better treatment of IRA political prisoners.
Sands is played by Michael Fassbender. And it is one astounding memorable performance. The physicality of it is remarkable (think Christian Bale circa The Machinist), as is the emotional range he displays. The supporting cast couldn’t have been better either. Any director would be lucky to work with such a talented ensemble.
Hunger is stylistically perfect. If the first draft of the script looks anything like the shooting copy, it must have seemed extremely risky. The first half of the film is nearly wordless, with any spoken dialogue basically playing the role of white, or background noise. It then takes an extreme change in pace as it focuses on a conversation between Sands and his priest (Liam Cunningham). This conversation takes up about twenty four minutes, and features a jaw-dropping seventeen and a half minute single shot of non-stop dialogue. I shudder to think of the number of takes that took. After this dialogue-intensive scene, the style of the film reverts to action-based. All the while, the pacing never skips a beat.
This is one brutal, daring film. Going into the theater, I worried I wouldn’t quite ‘get’ everything since I don’t know much about the stife in Ireland. But you don’t need a backstory in order to ‘get’ this film. After 15 minutes, you’ll be as involved with the story as the characters are. The tension felt can be cut with a knife. Never has a ninety minute film gone by so quickly. Despite the harshness of the reality Hunger is able to create, the film never falters from being perfectly balanced.