Published Apr 09, 2009Self-declared film buffs love to love films like Hunger, with its long takes that force you to process grim realities and extreme close ups of bored prisoners finding delight in house flies. However, not even the most pretentious of film nerds could pretend to see the point in a scene in which you watch a prison warden mop a floor, from start to finish.
Director Steve McQueen forces his audience to watch every grim detail of life for IRA prisoners in Long Kesh. But instead of a bleak portrait of IRA hero Bobby Sands' protest against the British, Hunger is a frequently tedious and unrevealing trek through footage that desperately needed a good editor.
The film's title suggests that the story will centre on Sands' 1981 reprise of the hunger strike started by Brendan Hughes. However, Sands isn't introduced until some good 30 minutes into the film and as a result, the first half suffers from a meandering focus on different characters and feels too compartmented. The acting is brave and engaging but there is too little character presented for us to engage with. The film sucks you into one character's life and then simply moves on without resolution.
At the beginning of act two we witness an immaculate battle of wits between Sands and the prison priest (Liam Cunningham), in which the actors spar back and forth and the audience gets to see what an intelligent and willful man Sands was. This is when the characters start to come alive. Michael Fassbender shines as Bobby and the parallels drawn in the screenplay between his fight for the IRA and his determination as a cross-country runner in boyhood are beautifully dealt with.
The actual hunger strike from which Hunger derives its title is given little context. The film makes no reference to Sand's political journalism and poetry while in prison, and shows so little of his character, aside from the scene with the priest, that you have no idea why you should feel anything other than nauseous at the sight of his gaping bed sores. We see him get a hair cut but that doesn't give us much insight into his character.
The cinematography is fantastic and gives the audience a good sense of the horror of Long Kesh Prison, but we are drawn in much too late for the film to have any real impact on its audience, beyond making you really want to eat a sandwich. (Maple)