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Hunger (2008)

September 16, 2010

8/10 Shitty Situations

Hard to handle and hard to forget.

Hunger is based on the true story of late IRA member Bobby Sands who in 1981, alongside fellow IRA prisoners, fought to regain his political status in a notorious British-run Northern Ireland prison by taking part in a no-wash protest and ultimately leading a monumental hunger strike that would take his own life.

The final days of Bobby Sands is one hell of a harrowing story on a lot of fronts and it makes me wish I knew more about the history of the times in Ireland so I could both have more to say on the matter and fully understand the depth behind his motivations. But whether or not you know a thing about Sands, The Troubles or why you shouldn’t wear Fighting Irish paraphernalia in Northern Ireland, this is a movie that’ll stick with you.

It’s the debut effort from one Steve McQueen (no relation, but talk about lucking out from birth), and this is a guy who’s clearly doing his own thing and doing it well. The story here might sound straightforward enough, but this is not your usual moviegoing experience. We’re only introduced to Sands at the start of Act Two as the first half-hour features a newly imprisoned IRA youth as one of the main individuals who quickly wises up to his new way of life behind bars. And by the time we meet Sands, we hardly even see the kid again, but at that point you just kinda have to go with it.

On top of that, there are maybe ten sentences spoken throughout the entire first hour or so, only to be broken up by an uncut, single-shot, maybe 15-minute-long scene of straight dailogue where Sands tries to justify his actions to a priest, and then it goes back to being – at least what many would consider by today’s standards – a silent film until the end credits roll. As odd as this approach might sound, it actually works because so much of what makes this movie stand out are McQueen’s striking visuals that speak far louder than words.

If you’re like me and have never staged a no-wash protest let alone refused to eat your veggies for fear of missing out on ice cream, the central gist is that every part of your body is weapon. You need to crap? You smear that junk on the cell walls until you can’t even see the paint. You need to piss? You save that mess up in a dish and then pour it out into the hallway at the same time everyone else does. They try to make you shower or shave? You let them drag you out and fight like mad until they knock you unconscious. (Don’t) rinse, (don’t) wash, repeat.

As you can imagine, a lot of what goes on inside The Maze is awfully hairy and McQueen is not a fan of shying away from all the grimy, brutal details. But since it’s so in-your-face, since it’s so tight-lipped and since it’s such altogether different approach to storytelling, it’s in turn that much more memorable. The said scene of lengthy dialogue between Sands and his priest is particularly memorable not only because it’s so well-written and acted, but because it stands as such a sharp, captivating contrast to the rest of what the script and visuals have to offer.

It’s actually quite brilliant and it’s amazing how otherwise lengthy, monotous scenes like watching a janitor mop up a piss-filled hallway from one end to the other manage to find themselves tattooed in my brain even more so than the endless beatings and dudes pooping in their hands. Like a breath of fresh air to see a director who appreciates the sounds of silence.

And even though he’s only around for two-thirds of the movie, Michael Fassbender is a freakin’ powerhouse as Sands. Absolutely outstanding actor who’s doing a damn fine job of bolstering his résumé along with his turns in Fish Tank and Inglorious Basterds. Has a real quiet strength and is great at just being himself. No idea why he got involved with Jonah Hex, but it’s no surprise that he won a handful of awards for his painfully demanding and subdued performance here.

I’ve never really seen anything quite like Hunger before, and a lot of that goes back to McQueen’s treatment of the story, but you kinda have to be in the right mood for it, too. It’s a great story, it’s very much worth a watch and it’s absolutely no joke, just don’t be an idiot and boot this baby up on date night. Trust me, it will not set the mood, unless you’re into that kind of thing…


8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2010 1:06 am

    Hard to watch Fassbender in that shape, I admire his dedication to his craft. Certainly a very powerful movie thanks to his superb performance.

    • September 16, 2010 10:02 am

      Yeah, he was on the Christian Bale diet in a big way there towards the end. Dude needs more leading man roles this.

  2. September 16, 2010 6:24 am

    I remember wanting to see this when I first started seeing trailers and interviews for it. Now it’s going to the head of the queue.

    • September 16, 2010 9:59 am

      It’s on Instant and it’s very much worth a watch. Hope you dig it, man.

  3. September 16, 2010 5:27 pm

    Fassbender is awesome!

    I don’t understand why he was JONAH HEX either, but, to his credit, he was the one good thing in it! He was having some fun, at least!

    Still have to see this one, but I can’t wait!

    • September 17, 2010 9:27 am

      Glad your on board with Fassbender. He truly is awesome and he’s the man here. Hope you dig it.

  4. September 21, 2010 4:21 am

    Good review Aiden:) I was a bit disappointed with Hunger though. When it was released, I was so eager to see how the story of Bobby Sands was treated. However, I found the film hard to identify with, which is a pity as it’s one of the few films made about the Troubles. To be fair, it wasn’t anything to do with Fassbender, he’s an amazing actor.

    • September 21, 2010 2:19 pm

      Good point about it being hard to identify with. I think the reason so much of it works is due to Fassbender’s performance and the stunning visuals, but it’s hard to put yourself in Sands’ shoes. Still wish I knew more about The Troubles though.

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