"I have my belief, and in all its simplicity that is the most powerful thing."
Steve McQueen's feature debut, Hunger, is a realistic and brutal portrayal of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) activists who are protesting their miserable treatment at the Belfast prison known as The Maze. Hunger is a challenging film to watch due to the brutal and unflinching portrayal of such a dark period in our recent history. If you have a weak stomach then you might want to stay away from this film because it is really gruesome. The way McQueen's camera captures the events and allows the images to tell the story is truly remarkable. We get extreme close ups of characters faces and hands that tell us a lot more than words possibly could. The film doesn't actually center on one character as it begins by following one of the prison guards as he goes off to work, then we are introduced to one of the prisoners who has just arrived at the Maze and is refusing to wear a prison uniform, and finally the film focuses on Bobby Sands a prisoner who is protesting their treatment with a hunger strike. What he is looking for is political prisoner status and despite their efforts they have been refused. The images in Hunger are disturbing but powerful. Of his three films, Hunger is possibly his weakest one, but it is still an extraordinary movie. He has perfected his craft with each upcoming film and is slowly inserting himself among my favorite directors.
Steve McQueen and Enda Walsh's brutal screenplay centers on the battle between the IRA imprisoned activists and the British guards that took place in 1981 in the Maze prison of Northern Ireland. It opens with a scene of a prison guard (Stuart Graham) heading for work. His knuckles are full of blisters and before he gets in his car he checks that there are no bombs hidden under it. It's an interesting way in which McQueen portrayed the constant threats and fear of retaliation the guards were under. Once he arrives at the prison we are introduced to Davey (Brian Milligan), a new IRA prisoner who is refusing to wear his uniform and claiming for political status. The guards refuse to listen to him and lock him up with another prisoner named Gerry (Liam McMahon). Their cell is smeared with excrement all over the walls and the conditions are pitiful. It's their way of expressing their resistance towards the brutal treatment they receive from the guards. Their efforts are useless. Halfway through the film we are introduced to another IRA prisoner, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), who has decided that the best way they can protest is by beginning a hunger strike. In a memorable scene between Sands and a visiting priest (Liam Cunningham) we hear his reasoning for behaving this way.
The performances in this film are really amazing, Michael Fassbender especially as he undergoes an incredible physical transformation. I think his work in all 3 films with McQueen are absolutely breathtaking. He is perhaps one of the best actors working today. The scene between him and the priest which is about 17 minutes long is shot entirely on a single take and it really stands out in the movie. In a film that has very little dialogue that long scene worked extremely well and the dialogue was extremely well written. The rest of the cast also deliver a strong performance, but it isn't until Fassbender shows up on screen that the film truly picks up and engages us. Hunger is carefully crafted and McQueen uses every single shot to such an incredible effect that those images speak more than words. Hunger may be disturbing for most audiences, but it is extremely well made and hugely effective.