"Hunger" DVD, Blu-ray Review

2/23/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review


Directed by Steve McQueen, Written by Enda Walsh and McQueen, 90 Minutes, rated R.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

"Hunger" is not an easy film to watch. Not only does it depict the physical deformities resulting from starvation in harshly realistic ways, but it also is completely unflinching in its violence, and often its minimalist style can try the patience of even the most forgiving viewer.

But, boy, is it effective.

The film explores the 1981 Irish hunger strike instigated by the Irish Republican Army, which felt it was not receiving the political status it deserved. Bobby Sands, here portrayed by Michael Fassbender, was probably the most notable of participants, and the film first shows us fragments of his life in prison for some sort of political terrorism and then the last few weeks of his life, in which his body slowly deteriorated due to self-imposed starvation.

It's hard to elaborate on the historical context any further, because the film doesn't really allow itself any historical context, which is one of the oddest things about it. Anyone completely unfamiliar with the topic at hand will likely be lost for long spurts, because except for a few brief radio excerpts and a final bit of text at the end of the film, the viewer isn't really told anything of the political and social conflicts the film is actually about. Sure, some things can be assumed, but how are we supposed to be at all concerned for this character if we don't understand why he's doing what he does?

Of course, there are certain moments in the film that make up for this lack of information, notably one specific sequence the film is most well-known for, a 17-minute-long one-take scene between Fassbender's Sands and a priest who is attempting to talk him out of the hunger strike. Fassbender and Liam Cunningham, who plays the priest, allegedly moved in together and practiced the scene 12 times a day for several weeks before shooting. The preparation certainly worked. The conversation comes off quite naturally, and the absolute power of the scene does a surprisingly great deal for Sands' character development.

The scene is now the longest ever in a mainstream film. It's by far one of the best solely dialogue-driven I've seen from a modern feature.

With this scene, we are made aware of Sands' immeasurable persistence and his feeling that since no one else will stand up for those around him, that it's his responsibility to do so. Following his death, a lot of media outlets deemed his sacrifice misguided and unfortunate. Still, it brought a lot of international attention to his cause. The film itself doesn't really judge the man; it simply strives to show us the potential determination a man can have, even when he may be driven by a cause we don't agree with or understand.

The film is the feature directorial debut of Steve McQueen (no relation to the actor), and it's a strong start. His techniques--most notably the frequent long takes--occasionally fall flat, as in a nearly 5-minute scene of a man cleaning the floor of a prison hallway, but most of the time he succeeds, such as in the aforementioned dialogue scene or in the scenes late in the film, where he shows us Sands' starvation. I don't know what exactly was done to so accurately portray the body under starvation--presumably Fassbender went through a pretty painful diet for the majority of it--but it certainly comes across as startlingly realistic, and it's often hard to watch.

Fassbender is the real revelation of the film, though. In just the past couple years, the Irish actor has been incredibly impressive, both in recent BAFTA winner "Fish Tank" and in "Inglourious Basterds," where he had a very brief but memorable supporting role.  Here, he's like another performer entirely, totally believable and fiercely dedicated to his craft, undoubtedly. He's definitely making a strong mark in very little time.

I can't say "Hunger" is an overwhelming success, but it's a fine introduction to McQueen, and it's got enough power in its few truly great moments to make up for the lack of historical context we're given and technical experimentation we're meant to put up with. And it's alone worth seeing for the phenomenal 17-minute dialogue scene.

Grade: B-

View the movie trailer for "Hunger" below. What are your thoughts?

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