Hunger (2008) – directed by Steve McQueen

Last night I sat down and watched Steve McQueen’s debut film, Hunger. Based on true events in 1981, this film is about the protest for political recognition of Northern Irish republican prisoners. Hunger focusses on Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) who leads his fellow inmates on a hunger strike. Commanding immense screen presence, Fassbender flawlessly plays the role of Bobby and his troubled plight. Straight from the Christian Bale school of dieting (see The Machinist), Fassbender went on a medically supervised crash diet for the role. His resulting gaunt body encompassed the role of Bobby Sands in all its gut-wrenching entirety. It wasn’t pretty.

Fassbender was not the only one hungry, as McQueen and co-writer Enda Walsh starve the film of dialogue, instead telling its story through a visceral eye and stunning cinematography. Deep focus is used to great effect and the pace of the film is refreshingly slow with long takes and minimal editing. This is a real pleasure in todays cinematic deluge of unecessary fast takes and over explanitory dialogue, but here, its lack cleaverly mirrors the inmates existence. The entire first half of the film is almost entirely without dialogue, at which point a twenty three minute conversation takes place between Bobby and his priest. Fourteen of those minutes is a single static take with both actors evenly in shot. Allowing the veiwer to digest this long period of dialogue, it is followed up by a long take of a prison guard mopping the hall. It is this filmic technique that makes Hunger a well paced and captivating film to watch.

McQueen is masterfully in control of his medium and lucidly displays the plight of the prisoners. However, Hunger is not without it faults. A few scenes did feel a little tacked on. For example, I found myself questioning the necessity to show a random prison guard break down in tears at the beating of the prisoners. It seemed like an unnecessarily melodramatic cliché that trod on ground that was already adequately dealt with earlier in the film. Nonetheless, this did little to hide the fact that this is an engrossing film to watch, and shouting out loud the emerging talents of McQueen and Fassbender.