Hunger (unrated) **½
A true and literally gut-wrenching tale.
By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
A cinematic gauntlet for the hardcore, Hunger practically defies you to watch it. ''Harrowing'' does not begin to describe director Steve McQueen's recounting of the 1981 hunger strike by Irish Republican Bobby Sands, who starved himself to death in protest over Britain's refusal to recognize IRA members as political prisoners.
With practically no historical context to ground the viewer, Hunger plunges us inside the walls of the block in Belfast's Maze prison where IRA prisoners were kept and routinely abused, in increasingly violent manner, by guards responding to the inmates' rebellious behavior.
McQueen, a multimedia artist turned filmmaker, uses his widescreen canvas in a painterly fashion, coming up with striking compositions to depict the incessant turmoil and brutality within the prison's walls. In one memorable shot, a prison guard weeps silently on the right hand of the frame, while his peers mercilessly beat a defenseless, naked inmate on the extreme left of the screen.
Although most of Hunger is uncommonly spare in dialogue, a 20-minute conversation between Sands (Michael Fassbender) and a priest (Liam Cunningham), shot almost entirely in one static take, doubles as a debate on the ethics of the IRA's beliefs and the meaning of life.
Bringing a movie to a standstill for a Frost/Nixon-ish confrontation between talking heads is a daring artistic choice, but there is little about Hunger that doesn't constantly challenge the audience, from its profusion of body fluids and substances to its unblinking depiction of the effects of starvation on the human body. McQueen maintains a cool and uncompromising tone throughout, except for the film's closing moments, when he resorts to some florid, cliched symbolism. But for those who can tough it out -- and not everyone will -- Hunger is a searing experience. Just don't expect to have much of an appetite when it's over.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon.
Director: Steve McQueen.
Screenwriters: Enda Walsh, Steve McQueen.
Producers: Laura Hastings-Smith, Robin Gutch.
Running time: 92 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, nudity, strong adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford.