Hunger (2008) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
144 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
MacAindrais24 September 2008
Hunger (2008) ****

Bobby Sand's story has been told before on screen, but never with such raw intensity and unrelenting artistry as in Hunger. The film is directed by Turner Prize winning artist Steve McQueen. While his art has often been part of the film medium, this is his first entry into feature film-making.

The film sparked both controversy and applause at this years Cannes Film Festival, with both disgusted walkouts and rousing ovation. It the end it landed McQueen the Camera D'or.

While the film follows the final weeks of Bobby Sand's hunger strike, it is equally about recreating the atmosphere and conditions inside the infamous Long Kesh Maze Prison. Its nearly a half hour into the film before we even meet Sands, in fact. We're introduced to a prison guard, who outside nervously checks his car for bombs, quietly avoids his comrades, then becomes as vicious as any other when brutalizing the inmates. We're also first introduced to a new inmate, who, as per the IRA standard, refuses to war a uniform and instead goes simply wrapped in a blanket. He and his cellmate smear the walls of their cells in feces as part of the no wash protest.

Bobby is played by Michael Fassbender, who gives a quietly powerful performance. For the film he underwent a medically supervised crash diet, one rivaling - if not outright surpassing - that of Christian Bale in the Machinist. He moves throughout the film with a sense of determination and dedication.

It is difficult to go into any detail about plot, as the film more or less moves patiently and quietly towards the inevitable. And the key word may be quiet. McQueen claimed that he originally envisioned doing the film dialogue free. Indeed, much of Hunger is free of dialogue. However, McQueen, as he puts it, felt it would be more powerful to go from vocal silence into an avalanche of dialogue. And so the films centerpiece was born - a 20 minute stationary shot of Bobby speaking with his Priest. In a film that is filled with a dark heaviness in a cruel prison atmosphere, that meeting lifts a weight for a time, before slowly descending into a sad sense of inevitability. Though that inevitability is liberating, it is nonetheless a profoundly sad one. The film also does not shy away from the cruelty of the British towards the Irish, though it also does not deny the brutality of the IRA at times - as characterized in one shocking moment. However, anyone with any inkling of rational knowledge on the Irish struggles knows that the IRA was never simply a terrorist organization, but a rebel group that did from time to time employ terrorist tactics. Like all anti-state organizations, however, the IRA did not exist for the sake of conflict, but because of callousness and cruelty. McQueen reminds us of the cruelty and arrogance of the British particularly through the cold words of Margaret Thatcher, speaking shamelessly about Sands' strike.

There have been many fantastic films about the Irish Struggles, with some of the best coming in recent years (Ken Loach's fantastic Wind that Shakes the Barley, and Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday, to name two of the better). This one, I think, may be the best. At least from an artistic and purely visceral standpoint. McQueen captures his scenes in jarring compositions, with all the skill and artistic imagining of a true artist. From the opening sequences, Hunger promises something more than just the standard. Whereas most political films focus all their attention on the message, Hunger focuses on the feeling, and never strays from its artistic goals. This is art, from its opening to closing frames. It's a boldly crafted and brave film. The cinematography and direction are assured, moving slowly and unexpectedly, always beautifully even in its darkest and dirtiest moments.

I believe this truly is a great masterpiece. McQueen has proved himself as a masterful artist of film-making as well with Hunger.
176 out of 217 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Finding beauty in the horror.
come2whereimfrom28 September 2008
This debut from former artist turned director Steve McQueen will leave you breathless. In its own understated way it is epic, bold, brutal and beautiful. Telling the story of the last six weeks in the life of Bobby Sands the Irish republican hunger striker the film pulls no punches in showing life inside the maze prison and what the prisoners did to try and win political status. From the outset the shots are amazing with McQueen utilising his artistic eye to bring the best out of the very cold prison environment, his attention to detail is simply stunning making every single frame fantastically watchable despite the sometimes gruesome subject matter. Also his approach of less is more adds to the atmosphere as he has shots that have no sounds or music, like the guard cleaning the corridor with its fixed camera unflinching for several minutes the only sound the eerie echoing scrubbing. Unofficially split into three the first part deals with the incarceration and subsequent no wash protests while the last deals with the hunger strikes but it's the central piece that separates which most will remember for its ability to captivate despite just being a conversation between Sands and a visiting priest. Again shot from a fixed angle and superbly lit Sands (Fassbender) explains the morality behind his decision to stop eating. The acting and the monologue will stay with you long after the films finished and cements actor Fassbender firmly in the role to the point where you start to feel for him as he begins to waste away. When the film premiered at Cannes it caused walkouts and standing ovations before walking away with the Camera d'Or for best debut and rightly so, not only is it one of the best films of the year it is one of the most powerful I've seen. Regardless of where you stand politically the message is universal and just like the circle of faeces smeared on Sands cell wall, McQueen has crafted something beautiful out of something horrible.
82 out of 106 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
A courageous piece of art
warholmuse15 September 2008
I saw Hunger at TIFF. I heard it was a hot ticket, and pre-festival buzz was good so I was elated when I got tickets. McQueen uses very little dialogue throughout the film, instead choosing to communicate through strong visuals and raw imagery. The film is less about the politics behind the IRA conflict, and more about the suffering of the prisoners and the dehumanization of them at the hands of the guards. It is not an easy film to watch. The imagery is so strong and raw that I couldn't help but grimace during some parts. The lady sitting next to me had her hands covering her face at one point, and was visibly crying. McQueen holds nothing back. The prisoners are shown smearing excrement over their cell walls and pouring their prison food over the floor until it goes bad and are covered with bugs. McQueen demonstrates the unwillingness of the prisoners to be stripped of their dignity (by conforming to prison demands), despite being stripped of everything else. There are some very long takes with no dialogue, with a particularly long one of a prisoner cleaning himself for what seemed like forever. The atmosphere in these scenes is so visceral that one can almost feel the filth and smell the stench of the prisoners. There is also one particularly brutal scene where the guards make two lines, and each nonconforming prisoner is marched through the middle while being repeatedly beaten by batons. Afterward, one of the officers walks outside and weeps. It is then that we learn to see the guards as human; perhaps even victims trapped within a conflict with no resolution in sight.

The story of Bobby Sands takes precedent about half way into the film. The most dialogue in the films occurs during the scenes between Sands and his priest. Unfortunately the Irish accents are thick, and I found the scene hard to decipher. The final scenes in the film are tough to watch as we witness Sands' slow dissent into the throes of starvation. It is hard to imagine anyone subjecting themselves to such suffering, yet 9 other prisoners followed suit. Fassbender is very good in the role; giving us a character that is unrelenting in his choices and beliefs. He genuinely believes his suffering serves a purpose, and though some may disagree with his choices, one can't help but admire his conviction.

Hunger is an artfully done film, which is no surprise considering McQueen is a visual artist. It is visually moving and challenging piece of work. It is hard to believe that it's his first feature, and easy to understand why it won the Camera d'or, and now the Discovery award at TIFF. I would have preferred a bit more back story to the conflict (I know close to nothing of its history), but then again, choosing to put more focus on politics may have taken away from other elements of the film. Lastly, I appreciate McQueen's unwillingness to take a stand on the conflict/protest in his film. He allows the viewers to make their own judgments; he's merely here to tell the story.
60 out of 77 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
sambrinks20 May 2008
The movie is a timely piece of film-making in this era of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. I have to admit my prejudice for the film because of my past as one of the prisoners depicted in the film. Long Kesh – or the Maze as the British infamously renamed it – was the Abu Ghraib of its day. One stark difference though: unlike Abu Ghraib, no one has ever been charged with the horror and relentless torture inflicted upon naked, defenceless prisoners in Long Kesh. The film is uncompromising in its examination of the events leading up to and beyond the Hunger Strike. Michael Fassbender is frighteningly real. But I will leave it up to the words of Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian to sum it up: 'Hunger is raw, powerful film-making and an urgent reminder of this uniquely ugly, tragic and dysfunctional period in British and Irish history…'
128 out of 176 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Instantdeath5 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Believe it or not my path only crossed with this film on a rainy day when Quantom of Solace was sold out at the multiplex. I was aware of the historical background to the Northern Irish Troubles and the notorious Maze prison, the last thing i was wanted to see on screen was a glorified Republican political point scoring exercise. Many newspapers and MPs had been jumping on the possibility of the film being portrayed as pro IRA. I can say now with confidence that they're assumptions could not be more wrong. Hunger, is a brutal, graphic and pragmatic interpretation of what the last 6 weeks for Bobby Sands were like, frankly, a desperate decision that led to a slow and painful death, all in aid of the cause.

My two favourite parts of this film, has to be priest trying to give mass and Bobby Sands conversation with the priest and my total surprise at the dialogue between characters. I was waiting the prisoners to settle down and soak up religion, in addition when Sands stated his intention to hunger strike, i expected the priest to bombard him with sentiment and morality. What we get instead is a perfect example of how far the conflict had become removed from freverent religious belief and proliferation of beliefs, the film focuses on the sole fact that it has come a war of extermination, the exact beginnings of which have long been forgotten in the mess and carnage of Republican and Loyalist campaigns.

With the conversation with the Father Moran, i found myself identifying with his character, trying his hardest to persuade a friend from taking his life, only using morality as his last strand of defence. He states all thing unseen consequences to a immovable Bobby Sands; radicalisation of the movement, the recruitment of the loyalist paramilitaries, throwing Northern Ireland into more years of bloodshed basically Sands was lighting the touch paper because he was disillusioned with the leadership, and I have to agree with Moran's characters conclusion that it was ego driving Sands on.

I left the cinema numb, unfeeling and depressed. It was a representation of a human beings last resort for rights or recognition. I would not consider this film to be pro anything, I consider it to be a realist interpretation of the last weeks of Bobby Sands.
67 out of 89 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Visual and aural assault on the senses
Trevor11 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Sydney Film Festival 2008 – I was looking forward to seeing Hunger at the Sydney Film Festival as it had just recently won the Camera d'Or (best first feature) at Cannes. The subject matter also seemed interesting being about Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker who starved to death in a Northern Ireland Prison in 1981 (more prisoners died after him). What I was not expecting was the aural and visual assault on the senses that this film puts the viewer through from the opening scenes. This is a brutal, unflinching and often unnerving film to watch that concentrates on the experiences of the prisoners and guards and of course in particular Bobby Sands at the prison in Northern Ireland. To give an example, when the prisoners refuse to wash they smear excrement over the walls, refuse to wear clothes and pile their rotting food in clumps around their cell as maggots crawl out. All of this is shown with unflinching clarity. The scene where Bobby is thrown out of his cell and washed by the guards is so brutally realistic that I could almost feel the punches and bruises inflicted on his body. The assault on our senses is exacerbated by long periods of little dialog at one point followed by one long scene of continuous conversation when Bobby's priest tries to explain to him that the hunger strike he intends on undertaking will be fruitless, a scene that is filmed in one continuous shot. Actor Michael Fassbender gives an astonishing performance as Bobby Sands, particularly the scenes of him wasting away during the hunger strike. While I certainly could not say I enjoyed the film it is certainly an engrossing film and one that is not easy to forget!
45 out of 60 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Provocative, vivid and engrossing, but at times it gets close to hagiography
Robert_Woodward15 November 2008
Hunger is a powerful and disturbing feature-film debut for the visual artist Steve McQueen. The film takes place almost exclusively within the confines of a high-security prison in Northern Ireland, where many members of the Irish Republican Army are interned. The small confines of the prison serve as a microcosm of the wider Troubles in Ireland. The conflict between the British wardens and the Irish inmates escalates steadily, with each indignity and abuse inevitably leading to another.

The conditions revealed in the prison are deeply disturbing, with the inmates fouling the jail with effluent and the guards responding with ritual humiliation and savage beatings. McQueen's camera is an unflinching witness to the squalor and cruelty, and with the vivid imagery and forceful sounds it is almost possible to smell and feel the frightening environs of the film.

Although the focus of the film ultimately falls on Bobby Sands, the IRA member and inmate who leads a fatal hunger strike within the prison, we are not introduced to the main protagonist until a third of the way through the film. This approach works remarkably well in setting the scene for the main narrative, but it is disappointing that the different perspectives on each side are somewhat sidelined thereafter, as Sands's personal struggle takes centre stage.

The terrible squalor of the prison cells provides some of the film's most powerful images, but it is the second third of the film that is the most gripping, as Sands converses and argues with a visiting Catholic priest. An unmoving camera is trained upon these two protagonists for what must be nearly half an hour, as Sands reveals his plan for a new hunger strike and defends his methods of achieving political goals, ultimately berating what he sees as the priest's despondency and inertia. This is an utterly compelling piece of cinema.

However, at the end of this gripping conversation, the director sees fit to insert a somewhat tortured analogy as Sands recalls for the priest a defining moment of his boyhood. This is an unnecessary effort to inject conventional beauty into Sands's story, and sits awkwardly with the general tone of the film.

In the final third of the film, the hunger strike is depicted in by now characteristically brutal detail. Lead man Michael Fassbender clearly underwent a very painful regime to portray the wasting and withering of Bobby Sands in his last days. Unfortunately, amidst the impressive attention to detail, McQueen goes further in romanticising his main protagonist through a series of flashbacks to Sands's childhood. This again jars with the realistic feel of the rest of the film, and points to McQueen's obsession with Sands, which he has admitted to having had since a young age.

Although at times steering a little close to hagiography, McQueen's directorial debut is still a bold and engrossing film that cultivates an understanding for the very different people caught in up in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It will be fascinating to see what his next project will be.
60 out of 83 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
markgorman24 November 2008

The H block in Belfast's Maze Prison.

This film captures the development and escalation of protest by the 'political' prisoners held here as things moved through 'The 'Blanket protest' onto 'The Dirty Protest" and finally to 'The Hunger Strikes' that claimed Bobby Sands and eight of his compatriot's lives.

As the end credits of the film show, the enemy, in the form of Margaret Thatcher was 'not for turning' and did not grant political status to these men that she considered no more than murderers. They did, however, lead to many concessions - bit by bit.

This astounding movie falls into three very clear sections; the gut wrenching blanket and dirty protest; a long and deeply personal conversation (in one 20 minute take) between Sands and his priest where Sands is asked to justify and then walk away from the impending hunger strike; and finally Sands' ordeal itself.

Each section has a different pace and personality. Each is desperate in its own way.

This film pulls few punches. The stench of human excrement is almost palpable in the opening act and the way in which Michael Fassbender brings Sands' death to the screen is almost unbearable.

But the real triumph of the film is that it takes no political sides and makes no judgements but does not sit on the fence. How? Because it invokes the viewer to do that themselves. Sands is neither a figure to pity or to vilify. It really is quite remarkable that the artist Steve McQueen can achieve this so consistently.

And this is art with a capital A. Every scene is stunningly rendered. The pace, at times snail-like, allows you consider in real detail the situation these men found themselves in (or created however you want to look at it).

Fassbender's performance is miraculous.

McQueen though, is the star of the show. One scene in particular when the men slop out by pouring their night's urine under the doors of the corridor simultaneously is quite beautiful, as is the Hirst-like art that some of them create from their excrement (that's what makes up the poster image).

Film of the year. No contest.

Incidentally we saw it in the DCA's Cinema 2. What a cracking screen.

(As we scoffed coffee and fudge doughnuts. How's that for irony?)
47 out of 68 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
A powerful and relevant look at recent British history
Chris Knipp25 September 2008
Steve McQueen, a noted young British artist, has made a powerful first film about the Irish prisoners in H-Block of Maze Prison, Northern Ireland, and the hunger strike and death of Bobby Sands in 1981. The images are searing, both horrible and beautiful (McQueen is aware from Goya that images of war can be both), and much of the film is non-verbal, but the action is broken up by a centerpiece tour-de-force debate between Sands (Michael Fassbender) and Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham) that is as intensely verbal as the rest is wordless. In Irish playwright Enda Walsh's rapid-fire dialogue quips are exchanged, then passionate declarations, in a duel that's like a killer tennis match: watching, we listen, and the camera, hitherto ceaselessly in motion, becomes still. Hunger, with its rich language, intense images, and devastating story, is surely one of the best English-language of the year, and it understandably won the Camera d'Or at Cannes for the best first film. Like the American Julian Schnabel, Steve McQueen is another visual artist who has turned out to be an astonishingly good filmmaker.

Faithful to the physical details of the H-blocks and the treatment of the prisoners, the film is still honed down to essentials and includes a series of sequences so intense it may take viewers a long time to digest them. As the film opens, an officer of the prison, Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham), follows his normal routine. His knuckles are bloody and painful; later we learn why. His wife brings him sausage, rasher, and eggs.

Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) a young Irish republican prisoner, tall, gaunt, and Christ-like, is brought into the prison. He refuses to wear the prison uniform, so, joining the Blanket protest, he's put in with fellow "non-conforming" prisoner Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon) in a cell whose walls are smeared with feces. Those of us who were around when these events happened (Steve McQueen was 12, and remembers the coverage), remember them so well we could have seen these walls. Campbell shows Gillen hot to receive "comms" (communications) from visitors and pass them to their leader Bobby Sands at Sunday mass.

When prisoners agree to wear civilian garments, they're mocked by the "clown clothes" they're handed out and riot, screaming and yelling and tearing up everything in their cells. They also periodically collect their urine and pour it under their cell doors out into the prison hallway where the guards must walk. The result is a brutal punishment by the prison in which the prisoners are taken out to the hallway and beaten naked by a gauntlet of police in riot gear. An eventual repercussion is that Raymond Lohan is shot dead while visiting his catatonic mother in a home.

A poetic flourish of the meeting between Sands and Father Moran is Sands's story of going to the country as a Belfast boy on the cross country team and going down to a woods and a stream where he is the only one who dares to put a dying foal out of its misery by drowning it. The images this tale evoke become the objective correlative of Bobby's last thoughts when he is dying in the prison hospital.

The central issue was being treated as political prisoners. From 1972, paramilitary prisoners had held some of the rights of prisoners of war. This ended in March 1976 and the republican prisoners were sent to the new Maze Prison and its "H-blocks" near Belfast. Special Category Status for prisoners convicted of terrorist crimes was abolished by the English government. Hunger doesn't focus on ideology or public policy, other than to have the voice of Margaret Thatcher, in several orotund declarations, adamantly denying the validity of the republicans' cause or status. The Sands-Moran debate is more about feelings and tactics.

Another powerful contrast comes when Sand goes on the hunger strike and is taken to the clean, quiet setting of the hospital where he is lovingly cared for and visited by a good friend and his parents, who're even allowed to sleep there during his last days. Sands' condition is dramatic, heightened by horrible sores, and a report to his parents of the rapid damage to internal organs and heart that his fast will cause.

It was McQueen's decision to eschew a screenwriter in favor of a playwright for the script, and his choice of his near-contemporary Enda Walsh, an Irishman resident in London, was a wise one. McQueen determined the structure and inspired the paring down. Walsh makes the central verbal scene sing. Its intensity is such that it has no trouble at all competing with the harsh prison scenes. It is brilliant stroke. Great theater you could say, but the film's contribution is to make the whole train of events alive and human at a time when they are acutely relevant to the post 9/11 world of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

Shown at Cannes, Telluride, and Toronto, included in the New York Film Festival 2008.
41 out of 62 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
The brutal life in the Maze Prison
freemantle_uk6 March 2010
Before Steve McQueen came along, artists turned directors trended to be awful at the job like Tracy Emin (but she has always been an awful artist). But since Steve McQueen there is hope that artists can be good storytellers, with Sam Taylor-Wood also gaining critical success with Nowhere Boy. Here Steve McQueen shows his skill with a brutal tale about the Maze Prison and the political protests IRA prisoners undertook.

In the early 1980s terrorist prisoners in Northern Ireland had their rights as political prisoners removed and IRA prisoners protest by refusing to wear prison uniforms, thereby ending up being nude, and smearing their own feces. Prison guards have to use violence even to clean prisoners and clean their cells. One prisoner, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) who suffers from the violence goes on a hunger strike to force the British government to give in to his demands. He would go on it by himself and was willing to die for his cause. To ensure that this wasn't a pointless sacrifice other IRA men would take his place other he died. As the strike continues Sands' health quickly deteriorates, with the British government standing strong against him.

McQueen shows his skills very quickly, showing the brutal nature of live and showing the dirty live of the prison cells. It is grim but effective and you get the feel of what that live was like. He also shows his ambition, with lots of wide, continuous shots throughout, the main one being when Sands speaks with a priest (Liam Cunningham) about the morality of going on hunger strike. This almost felt like a stage play. McQueen also shows his artist flair with some of the shots, but most of the time keeps the film grounded to real life.

Surprisingly McQueen shows a more balanced picture, showing a prison officer Lohan (Stuart Graham) is a human being, having to protect himself from IRA attacks, and having his wife worry for his life. But McQueen could have shown more, like terrorist attacks conducted by the IRA or British reprisals against them. I am personally a big critic of the IRA, seeing them as no more then terrorist targeting innocent civilians and now really just a criminal organisation. But despite my prejudices I was still gripped by the film, it was not Anglophobic or pro-Nationalist. An interesting parallel with today is with American treatment of Al-Qaida prisoners, where the Republicans and the Right in America want to strip them of their rights, torture them and lock them up indefinitely, whilst the Democrats want to treat them as what there really are, criminals and should have criminal trials. When it comes to fighting terrorism we need to show that we are better then sinking to their level. The film skips over the fact that Bobby Sands won an election to be an MP whilst on hunger strike.

The acting is excellent, particularly from Michael Fassbender who is quickly emerging as a massive hot prospect. He is my second choice to replace Daniel Craig, just after Matthew MacFadyen. Liam Cunningham and Stuart Graham are also worthy of note.

This is a very good film, and an excellent debut by Steve McQueen.
17 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
A piece of art, but not great storytelling.
shriggles18 January 2009
This film certainly succeeds on an artistic level. The performances are incredibly brave, and the cinematography is astonishing- the film actually looks like it was made in the early '80s. The pace and editing are also perfect for the claustrophobic, monotonous setting of prison. However, the film fails on another, more important level, i.e. storytelling. Firstly, the events are given no proper political context, bar some vague caption referencing "the troubles", and a few Thatcher sound-bites. But even more fundamentally than that, we are not properly introduced to the main character of Bobby Sands until almost halfway through, at which point the film switches allegiance to his story alone, meaning those whose stories we have followed up until this point are simply abandoned, never to be heard of again. A curious, even nonsensical decision. I don't know if this film was made to entertain or educate, but it did neither for me.
37 out of 69 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Visually striking and inventive film that is emotionally engaging and well worth seeking out
bob the moo11 January 2009
Hunger is a low budget film from a production company more recognisable for its TV work, without any recognisable stars, without a really big distributer to get it around and directed by a Turner Prize winning visual artist making his film debut. Already you would perhaps be considering giving it a miss and maybe this isn't the best time to mention it is a largely dialogue free account of hunger-striker Bobby Sands set entirely in Northern Ireland's infamous Maze prison. This is probably one of the reasons that the film hasn't been as widely seen as it deserves to be or why audiences haven't flocked into screenings of it on a Saturday night. Certainly it is not an easy watch given the subject matter alone but yet it is a compelling and quite brilliant film.

Although the nature of the story leads the viewer to be emotionally invested in one "side" of the situation, McQueen never does anything that opens his film to this suggestion of bias or of scoring political points, if anything his attention to the detail of the tightly focused story does just the opposite. As well as telling us how many hunger strikers died, he point out how many prison guards were murdered during the period and, in my favourite part, introduces us to the prison via one guard soothing his hands (which tells us the frequency of what he does). It is a nice moment but not as telling as the thrill the viewer gets as he checks for bombs and starts his car – we are supposed to be on the edge of our seat and we are, swiftly followed by the realisation that this is an experience we would repeat if we were in his driveway the next day or the next.

From here we move into a nearly dialogue free thirty minute opening where no central character really comes forward and our "focus" is on life in the prison for guards and prisoners – a story that almost starts without there being a "story". The film later brings Bobby Sands to the fore, delivering one impressive dialogue scene before returning to a dialogue-light charting of his hunger strike on the way to the conclusion that we all know is coming. Yet it manages to be really engaging because of the level of each detail in each scene and the relevance of each scene to the overall film. The scene that has gotten all the mentions and praise is the long dialogue scene between Sands and the priest who comes to see him before his strike. Filmed in three distinct shots, the scene is technically impressive but also allows the main dialogue delivery of the film – and the only really moment where anyone is allowed to debate and discuss the actions. Even here McQueen does not allow sides to be taken but keeps it as two men talking. It is engaging, really well written and of course, really well acted.

It is ironic that in this scene the film sits still for ages and allows the frame to remain the same because for the majority of the film McQueen's camera is the star. So many shots are striking that it almost becomes "normal" to be transfixed by an image on the screen. Whether it be a excrement-smeared cell, urine flowing down a hall or a man washing blood from his hands, it looks great and the care taken to construct each image fills the "gap" that the dialogue leaves. The performances are mostly very good and compliment the "few words" approach by bringing a lot when required and wearing their characters convincingly. There are some you may recognise but I didn't. Fassbender is the most memorable as he has the biggest character and the most startling journey, but this should not take away from smaller turns from Graham, Mullen and a few others who are also good. The film is not perfect though. The uninitiated may struggle to understand the bigger picture as you don't get a lot of help with that and those that don't get into the telling initially may be left cold by the approach. However these "weaknesses" are not missed targets or failings but rather the "cons" that have to come with the overwhelming pros of the manner of delivery.

Hunger is not an easy film to watch but it is a great film. It is wonderfully shot with an artist's composure but McQueen is not a "visual style" director who doesn't come with anything else (list your own failed music video director turned film director here) but rather he uses this approach to improve the film and make the telling better. The acting is impressive because of how real they feel and how little dialogue they have across the whole film, but to me the real star was McQueen. He is a visual artist and it shows as he makes the majority of his shots striking and engaging, even if they are not "beautiful". It may get a bit more exposure due to awards chatter but even if it doesn't it is certainly worth checking out.
9 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Come on people!
Ronan MacRory25 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Look, maybe I just don't get it but am I the only person who found this to be very poor film-making?The subject that the film deals with is so rich in conflict and yet it is essentially a film with no conflict, about the troubles in Northern Ireland! What leads Bobby Sands to go on a hunger strike? What is he in prison for? Why does nobody talk for the first twenty minutes of the film? I hate to be so harsh, but I see straight through this film. The filmmaker chose a 'heavy' subject that would be well received at independent film festivals. Having little experience with actors he chose to make it a stylized piece, where dialogue is sparse and the acting is forced, and opted for 17 minute shot to save money. He knew most people would think it was arty because it was so counter-intuitive. If you want to see a good film about Northern Ireland watch "In the Name of the Father". If you want to see Bobby Sands depicted as a motiveless marionette walking through a landscape that looks more like a scene from Alan Parker's "The Wall" than the maze prison, by all means enjoy this one. Spoiler alert: He dies in the end, but we knew that anyway, so why not engage us with an aspect of Sands' life that we may not have known? Also, here's a tip from In the Name of the Father: Make the main character sympathetic by showing his unfair victimization and then reveal his character flaws. DON'T show us how flawed he is and then try to redeem that with a hunger strike. The audience should sympathize with the main character. Sorry Mr. McQueen, that's just how movies work.
31 out of 61 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Try again, please.
rushhire19 December 2008
It is a story that needs to be told, but there needs to be more too it. They need to tell what happened before and after this, and during, in other places, beside that lame prison.

There just wasn't enough substance. The guy swept the water in the hall for 3 minutes. And there where a lot of things like that just to fill up the time.

I can only give it a 2. Please try again. Don't fill the thing up with a lot of long dramatic still shots of things we see every day. It's just too boring. If you believe in it, do it right, and make it interesting.
26 out of 54 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
pretentious rubbish
vailsy21 March 2010
I've not seen a film for a while that offended me as much as this one on just about every level

The sound in the movie is awful and some of the Foley work really poor, surely if this were 'art' then the sound would be of high artistic quality. it is not

there's no dialogue for the first twenty minutes though, so it must be an artistic soundtrack. just like there will be blood and once upon a time in the west. yeah nice, but those movies were good

We have lots of supposedly artistic visual shots of sh^t on walls, a guard standing outside in the snow, a guy playing with a fly, an out of focus face, tick, tick, tick. All artistic angles are covered here including wait for it - the twenty minute static shot. Brought shivers down my spine

And by the way, let's shock. Firstly we'll pick a real controversial subject, and then as a cherry on top - I know we'll have a guy banging one out that'll do it

Hunger is like an a-z of how to make a movie seem artistic, but it is actually just pretentious twaddle masquerading as artsy film making. it has no substance. Predictably the festival circuit fell for it big time. Shame on them for not being just a little bit more savvy for once
17 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Sad movie making
dusan-226 July 2009
Using the best quality colors on the canvas as well as following the non-conventional style, does not guarantee a good painting. I believe we can apply that to the world of film art as well. Good acting and artistic camera, no doubt. However, there is no film composition at all. Just a worthless effort to make a feature film in direct cinema documentary style. That would be a depiction of Hunger. If cruelty and convincing repulsion are enough for a good feature film, then we can enter any prison where people are living in agony, or picture the battle front where victims are dying in worst pain and make a truly good piece of art just by filming their suffering thoroughly. I believe that everyone should provide as much as they possess. I can see a lot of movie talent in the whole movie crew, but so small result. This is why my grade is even more strict, the lowest one.
16 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Wasted Opportunity
lugsmobile-111 June 2009
The story of Bobby Sands had so much potential, and so many parallels with our current struggles with Terrorism, and the power of the state to deal with and squash dissent. The film instead is incredibly thin, relying on the shock of cells pasted with excrement, methodical beatings and institutional bastardization. In brief, the film depicts the brutalization of the prisoners as much as it does of the prison guards; it observes the horror that hunger strikers go through; and it observes the limited impact it has on the state. So what. They're facts we're all very familiar with. What it chooses not to do is observe the impact this event had in the places it really mattered... in the halls of power, in the streets of Belfast, and around the world. Bobby Sand's hunger strike and subsequent death raised the profile of the Irish people's struggle around the planet, and as such, that was it's only success. Those events are dealt briefly with twice.... in the long and boring conversation Bobby has with the Priest, and in the film's coda. This was lazy film-making.
13 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Using 90 min to tell a 30 min story
LLLC3 June 2011
So disappointed with this film.

Too much still picture and slow motion in this film and show nothing in depth.

Only 10 min of conversation in the middle and rest are almost pure silence. However, the scene doesn't help conveying any important message.

But the pace suddenly run so fast and you need to watch it carefully.

It did give you a feeling of emptiness (feeling of hunger?), because it contained nothing.

A good topic but a dreadful presentation.
12 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
The Last Days Of Bobby Sands
sddavis6331 January 2010
It's difficult to tell what the perspective (if any) of this film was, which surprised me somewhat. I was expecting it to be a more or less pro-IRA film, portraying Bobby Sands and his ilk as heroes or freedom fighters or some such glorious thing. It didn't do that. Indeed, in what was probably the most interesting part of the movie - Sands' extended conversation with the priest before beginning his hunger strike - his motives, judgment and even sanity get called into question. There's no doubt that Bobby Sands believed in something and was totally committed to "the cause" - but the movie seems to suggest by the end that "the cause" had somehow fallen by the wayside in favour of Sands' desire to make "his point" - "the cause" and "his point" not being the same thing necessarily. At the same time, there's hardly a flattering portrayal of the British. Abusive guards and a general coldness of attitude are the primary images one gets of them from this film. So, is it pro-anything? Or, is it anti-everything? In the end, one gets the impression that the IRA comes out on top (at least in terms of the point being made - the closing 20 minutes or so do seem to be trying to make Sands an object of sympathy, a sympathy which I, personally, did not feel for him) but it's hardly a ringing endorsement of the group or its actions.

Frankly, this was often a depressing movie. It begins with the "blanket" and "no wash" protest at the Maze Prison - protests begun in an attempt to pressure the British government into declaring the IRA members political prisoners. I'll admit here to my bias, because I think anyone reviewing this movie with its subject matter has to admit to their own bias right off - they were murderers and thugs. When you kill innocent people in an effort to further a political agenda, you're a terrorist and therefore a criminal, no matter what side you're on. You're a political prisoner if you're imprisoned for your beliefs, or possibly for your actions against the state, but not for your actions against the innocent. Political rant aside, the movie is effective in graphically portraying the conditions inside the Maze - both the sanitary conditions and the abusive conditions. It does so by relying primarily on set rather than dialogue - the dialogue being rather limited throughout, with the exception of the aforementioned conversation with the priest, a philosophical discourse that seems to go on and on far too long and which I lost interest in after a while. The immediately succeeding scene (a very long scene of a guard simply washing the floor in the prison hallway) seemed to serve little purpose and further lost me. After that, the focus is moved to Sands and the hunger strike, which led ultimately to his death after 66 days.

In the end, the movie's troubling but - in my own opinion - not especially powerful. It missed the opportunity to really explore the concept of political prisoner vs. terrorist, which could have made this a very interesting political/philosophical statement. In the end, it disappointed me. 3/10
8 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
a designer's overly aesthetic take on an issue bigger than that
Radu_A30 December 2009
The topic of this movie is indeed an important one, but it surprised me a bit scanning the other reviews that very few people complain about the extremely artsy visuals, though quite a few mention the lack of substance. What I didn't find at all was any mention of the decidedly gay angle of depiction, what with the superb lighting of undernourished male torsos, facial close-ups of young men screaming and crying, tons of buttocks... rather reminiscent of the at least overtly gay 'Bent' (which by comparison is flawed, but much better).

Even execution is played out in a perfect visual angle, with the blood of the victim splattered out elegantly over his ailing mother's face, whose pink woolen sweater matches the crimson blood perfectly. Obviously Steve McQueen knows his Derek Jarman, but while 'Caravaggio' and 'Sebastiane' are masterpieces juggling with art and homosexuality in varying social contexts, 'Hunger' is evidently intended to be a prison film, and a biographical one at that. Therefore I find its beauty rather out of place, though of course it does manage to unsettle the viewer just because of it.

Supposing this is intentional, one may judge 'Hunger' to be a new take on an established subject, but personally I consider this beauty a gimmick which serves to superficially disguise absence of script and subject matter. Maybe Steve McQueen intends to become a new Peter Greenaway, whose films often suffer from visual overkill as well, but at least obviously and unabashedly so. If anybody asks me about a good film about the IRA imprisonment issue, I'll continue to refer to 'In the name of the father'.
11 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Slow, visual, graphical and a little boring.
Rumified7 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I first pop it in my DVD player. It takes over 40 mins to see some action pick up. Well, actually, they do have some action moments, but they are brief. It's rather slow, and it revolves around 2 males in a very gross cell with poop smear all over the walls for the most part.

Towards the end the story focuses on the main story point, a man going on strike by not eating, hence the title. This man, which I believe should have been the main focus from the start wasn't. You see him here and there throughout the movie but you don't see him as a main character, let alone the lead, or in this case, the whole reason behind the strike and the movie.

It isn't until the scene of him speaking with a Priest in the meeting room that his plan is heard, and the climax of the movie. Sadly, it's wayyy towards the end. Even after that, it's just graphical with how his body changes due to lack of food. The first 2 males in the cell that you spent 40 something mins looking at, are not seen or heard of again, which makes me wonder, why did the movie revolve around them for the most part instead of the main character, the one going on strike?

The movie seems to lack direction, and at the end you are left with a sense of 'wtf did I just saw? @___@'. Watch if you want to, if I were you I would just skip it and watch something better.
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Leaves you hungry
jeroen_ck11 May 2009
Mabey I don't understand this film. Or maybe I don't know enough about the story. Butt I really did not like this film. It's a miracle I sat true the hole thing. It's just so boring and it doesn't give you anything to go with.

There was just so much open space left in all the scenes. Space where absolutely nothing happened. Life might be boring at times. Especially in prison. Butt I don't think it is anything like this. this film (like many other "artistic" films) gives a totally non realistic vision of a situation. A sort of "inner emotions" thing or something. Im surprised it got such a high rating. It has the probably most boring scene in the history of film. Where the two actors (who gave a good performance bye the way) just talk for 10+ min long without any cut. just sitting at a table. One shot from a distance. Absolutely no cuts. At a certain point, it was as if this shot was warping in my mind. As if it was so boring that I try ed to make it interesting. Like I would imagine a zoom. Butt nothing at all happened. Stil it was probably the most important shot in the film because it was pretty much the only dialog in the film. Like I say'd, I don't know much about the actual story. You would think I would after watching this whole thing, butt I haven't learned a thing. I don't think all films should be entertaining butt I just can't like this one.
14 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Contrived, Clichéd & Just Disappointing
Mike Roman18 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Steve McQueen, the artist cum film director (Tom Horn will be turning in his grave) sadly understands little of what cinema is about. He is, after all, an 'artist' (note the inverted commas) and not a filmmaker. What we have here in Hunger, if not a sensationalist portrayal of actual events and another example of profiting from what is ostensibly a tragic series of circumstances, is at very best a resorting to, once again, stark visceral imaging to which the viewer is, contrary to the 'freedom of choice' that Sands himself invoked by his decision to starve himself, coerced into aggressively. This is to say nothing of the apparent sympathetic tenor which the film sustains towards a terrorist outfit that has destroyed the lives of many innocent people and their families.

With regard to the producer's credo that this film 'provides a timely exploration of what happens when body and mind are pushed to the uttermost limit' I saw absolutely no 'exploration' of the sort, other than an infantile book-ending of sentimentalism framed around a story of Sands' childhood that in all probability never existed. Oh, and something of a vanity project centred around Fassbender's own starvation diet. This ridiculous explanandum is just another example of the convoluted rhetoric used time and again to justify a piece of work that cannot shine for itself without first being panel-beaten onto a plane for all to see.

Such forceful emotive evocations are typical of artists who pander to their audience's pity which (and to echo the Margaret Thatcher quote used by McQueen) is the most basic of human emotions. It would appear, then, that McQueen has allowed his emotions to get the better of him, a dangerous thing when dealing with such overtly political topics.

The pivotal 22 minute talkie-bit-in-the-middle includes a 17 and half minute take for which the rationale seems at best unsure. Maybe this, again, is something of the vain McQueen popping up, wanting to lick his balls because he can. The whole scene, consequently, is artificial, and wholly unnatural in terms of interaction and dialogue (in fact, it is a contrived duologue). Furthermore, the whole film smacks of convention from start to finish: man imprisoned for his ideals, man beaten up by prison guards, (cheesy silences, cheesier dialogues), slow death of man, man's life flashes before his eyes. End Credits. How many more times do we need to be inflicted with the same tripe and tedious linearity? Have you artists no imagination? Though he might know what constitutes a picture, it is clear that McQueen is not a filmmaker, indeed he freely admits this. If this is the case, then he would be wise to steer clear of such subjects which require not just the imaginative eye of the artist but a factual re-presentation of the reality of the situation, whilst avoiding at all costs the clichéd and puerile fly-on-the-finger shots, or somehow trying to make a sh*t-circle look curiously cosmic. But McQueen has proved he is still a child at heart. Whether artist or filmmaker, McQueen has a responsibility here, not just to a man's life and his ideals but to those lives that were touched (or, as the case may be, sledge-hammered) by the movement he was connected with.
8 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
bad bad
majoula2 November 2009
Are u all kidding.. the most slow, boring movie ever... and that says a lot! dark, slow, nothings happened.. its like to watch paint dry extra slow.. and it seemed cheap... like the rented a ugly house and said.. hey.. lets do a movie that need nothing else then some police uniforms and skinny pale naked men! Stay away from this if u like nice political movies.. this one is very bad.....

those who likes have maybe fall for the "if i don't like it " I'm smart pretend if i like it".... and by like it I'm political correct..... i just wanted the movie to end....... i have to make dots to even be able to pass this review.. because i cant find anything nice to write about it...
15 out of 33 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
Excellent Film
Johnboy122123 June 2012
While I will admit that I had a hard time watching some scenes in this film, I found it to be outstanding. The acting, particularly that of Michael Fassbender, is awesome, and so is the writing and directing.

The film does have it's flaws, especially the over-long hallway cleanup scene (fast-forward time), but it was still well-worth viewing.

Don't get me wrong. I did not come away from the film feeling sorry for the NRA members who were imprisoned, who foolishly demanded they be called political prisoners. They were terrorists, plain and simple, who murdered innocent men, women and children for their cause.

Had they served their time without incident, most would have been released from prison and gone on to live their lives in peace. There's two kinds of lives we all live....a life of peace, or a life of chaos. They chose chaos, and suffered the end result.

That said, the conditions at that prison were enough to make me squirm. Then again, prison is punishment, not designed to be a country club.

In my opinion, McQueen's biggest mistake was the omission of the horrors these men were guilty of committing, which would have given the viewer a more balanced approach to what happened.

Watch the film for the performances, if you aren't too weak stomached. Fassbender should have been nominated for an Oscar, in my opinion. The others were exceptional, as well.
9 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!
Copied to clipboardCopy link
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed