Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Liam McMahon
Director: Steve McQueen
Running Time: 96 mins
Hunger is a British film about the true story of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who led a hunger strike of fellow IRA prisoners in protest of their detention by the British government without recognition as political prisoners.
Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in prison was without doubt one of the most important moments of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and Hunger manages to capture that significance in a unique way, providing a contained and intimate depiction of the events inside prison with a concise look to their impact on the outside world.
Notable for its extreme slow pacing and almost total lack of dialogue for long, long periods, there’s no denying that Hunger is a tough watch, and that’s before we get into the emotionally devastating parts of its story, and the physically staggering transformation by lead actor Michael Fassbender.
However, is the style, employed so boldly by director Steve McQueen, actually effective? Well, yes and no. For the most part, the slow pacing of Hunger does make it a rather inaccessible watch, taking over half an hour before we even meet Bobby Sands on screen, all the while hitting you over the head with some really quite heavy-going drama and gruesome violence.
With that said, McQueen deserves high praise for not yielding to outside pressures in making this film, as he sticks to a bold, challenging style in order to tell a story that is just that: bold and challenging. While there’s immense historical context to be explained surrounding Sands’ hunger strike, this is a strikingly concise historical drama that focuses squarely on the events inside the prison.
You’re made aware of the significance of those events by a few sequences following a prison officer outside the jail, as well as voiceover speeches from then-PM Margaret Thatcher, but for the most part, this is a fully contained drama about the hunger strike, with very little in the way of political storytelling to be seen.
With a heavy focus on the mental state and willpower of Sands in dedicating to a 66 day-long strike, Hunger takes on an increasingly ethereal atmosphere as it unfolds, with a particularly striking philosophical discussion between Sands and a priest that plays out for 17 unbroken minutes.
Full of thematic depth and an emotionally and physically staggering lead turn from Michael Fassbender, the film is a heavy-going but ultimately enthralling watch, and one that rewards you if you stick with it through thick and thin to the bitter end. So, that’s why I’m giving Hunger a 7.5 overall.