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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Michael Fassbender
Liam Cunningham
Stuart Graham
Brian Milligan
Liam McMahon.
Directors
Screenwriters
Enda Walsh
Steve McQueen.
Running Time
96 minutes

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Hunger
Bleak docudrama of Bobby Sands’ IRA hunger strike


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Plot
1981, HM Maze. IRA inmates refuse to wear prison stripes, starting a protest to attain political prisoner status. When it fails, one, Bobby Sands (Fassbender), begins a hunger strike. But is it suicide or martyrdom?


Review
Hunger

What is the grimmest movie ever? Bergman’s Cries And Whispers? Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream? Wayans’ White Chicks? Maybe, but you would be hard-pressed to find a film bleaker than Hunger, artist Steve McQueen’s debut feature detailing the starvation strikes in the Maze prison that resulted in the death of Bobby Sands in 1981 (SPOILER!) .Yet this unrelenting darkness should not be held against it. For Hunger is a powerful, difficult piece that announces McQueen as a singular talent, and Michael Fassbender as an actor of note.

This is as far from bog-standard docudrama as you can get. In the early sections, as McQueen intercuts prison officer Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham)’s routine and inmates Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) and Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon) taking part in a blanket protest, the filmmaking is strangely beautiful and technically stunning. Cells covered in muck are vividly evoked, Sean Bobbitt’s camera lingering over swirly patterns of shit. McQueen punctures the languorous artsy feel with visceral handheld violence when Sands is brutally forced to cut his hair. Later, a shot of a prison guard mopping a urine-filled corridor literally lasts minutes.

The effect of this is to make Hunger’s central set-piece all the more startling. Around halfway through, McQueen gets to grips with the issues in a 22-minute locked-off camera shot in which Sands reveals his plan to go on hunger strike to Father Moran (Liam Cunningham), with both debating the merits and ethics of the protest. Despite bravura performances from both actors, the static camera, rather than funnelling your focus, feels distancing, creating a barrier to the ideas and emotions.

On the other side of this talk marathon, McQueen doesn’t shy away from the minutiae of Sands’ starvation, focusing on the bedsores and the prisoner’s withering frame. Some of McQueen’s lapses into religious symbolism towards the end undo the oblique approach of the first third. But, just as Hunger offers no easy pleasures, it offers no simple analysis, and delivers a gruelling, compelling experience. One you probably won’t want to go through again.


Verdict
Anchored by Fassbender’s turn, Hunger is as much about the personal as the political. The real breakthrough, though, is McQueen, who turns in a film that dazzles and challenges in equal measure.


Reviewed by Ian Freer

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Hunger
Empire Star Rating

Fantastic film, wonderfully shot, brilliantly acted and directed, great script and powerful, grim and brutal ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Zach_JC at 01:32, 09 July 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Powerful

Stunning film to watch, visually and in every other aspect. Unflinchingly brutal and stomach churning in places but compelling none the less. Some of the accents are difficult to follow but that's not a big deal. b] ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Spaldron at 15:56, 11 April 2012 | Report This Post


One of the best films of the 21st century, hands down! Luke ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by luke.R at 12:53, 25 September 2010 | Report This Post


One of the best films of the 21st century, hands down! Luke ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by luke.R at 12:53, 25 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

L: Qwerty Norris One of the best films of last year. Beautifully shot, brilliantly performed and never attempts to weigh itself on the side of the IRA or the British Government. minute single take is also an astonishingly powerful piece of cinema.nd Chris Tookey can shove his Conservative-pandering Daily Mail reviews up his jack... 5/5 still can't get over how exceptional that scene is - and it felt a lot shorter to me - you never once think "this is dragging on a bit" it's way... More

Posted by richCie at 10:41, 29 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

One of the best films of last year. Beautifully shot, brilliantly performed and never attempts to weigh itself on the side of the IRA or the British Government. The 18 minute single take is also an astonishingly powerful piece of cinema. And Chris Tookey can shove his Conservative-pandering Daily Mail reviews up his jack... 5/5 ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 06:06, 29 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

L: demoncleaner L: richCie L: demoncleaner L: richCie L: TrendMeUp L: Spider One thing I didn't get, perhaps someone can explain to me, what was the reason for the scene where the warden is sweeping away the urine in the corridor? It went on forever and didn't strike me as having any particular point. I sighed when I realised that McQueen was going to show the cleaning of the whole corridor as it just seemed like trying to be arty for no reason at all! ... More

Posted by richCie at 15:17, 28 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

L: richCie L: demoncleaner L: richCie L: TrendMeUp L: Spider One thing I didn't get, perhaps someone can explain to me, what was the reason for the scene where the warden is sweeping away the urine in the corridor? It went on forever and didn't strike me as having any particular point. I sighed when I realised that McQueen was going to show the cleaning of the whole corridor as it just seemed like trying to be arty for no reason at all! cqueen say... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 14:35, 28 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

L: demoncleaner L: richCie L: TrendMeUp L: Spider One thing I didn't get, perhaps someone can explain to me, what was the reason for the scene where the warden is sweeping away the urine in the corridor? It went on forever and didn't strike me as having any particular point. I sighed when I realised that McQueen was going to show the cleaning of the whole corridor as it just seemed like trying to be arty for no reason at all! cqueen says it was supposed to be a l... More

Posted by richCie at 12:33, 28 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

L: richCie L: TrendMeUp L: Spider One thing I didn't get, perhaps someone can explain to me, what was the reason for the scene where the warden is sweeping away the urine in the corridor? It went on forever and didn't strike me as having any particular point. I sighed when I realised that McQueen was going to show the cleaning of the whole corridor as it just seemed like trying to be arty for no reason at all! cqueen says it was supposed to be a lull after ... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 22:50, 27 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

L: TrendMeUp L: Spider One thing I didn't get, perhaps someone can explain to me, what was the reason for the scene where the warden is sweeping away the urine in the corridor? It went on forever and didn't strike me as having any particular point. I sighed when I realised that McQueen was going to show the cleaning of the whole corridor as it just seemed like trying to be arty for no reason at all! cqueen says it was supposed to be a lull after the intense dialogue scene, for ... More

Posted by richCie at 10:05, 27 August 2009 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

L: Spider One thing I didn't get, perhaps someone can explain to me, what was the reason for the scene where the warden is sweeping away the urine in the corridor? It went on forever and didn't strike me as having any particular point. I sighed when I realised that McQueen was going to show the cleaning of the whole corridor as it just seemed like trying to be arty for no reason at all! cqueen says it was supposed to be a lull after the intense dialogue scene, for the aud... More

Posted by TrendMeUp at 01:01, 27 August 2009 | Report This Post


wow!

Excellent review empire, you hit every nail on every head, watched it the other day courtesy of lovefilm (did request it the first day it came out) and was not disappointed! it is gritty beyond belief and Fassbender is a million miles away from "the we will fight in the shade" character of 300! very minimalistic soundtrack, but with the visuals on display who needs uneccessary dialogue! Only gripe is that if you go in blind you may not quite grasp the point of the prisoners actions, 19... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Paulicarz at 09:36, 07 June 2009 | Report This Post


Here is an immaculate movie that is ultimately weighed down by it’s own abstract innovation. Though this doubles as both a hindering and an attribute, Hunger is exceptional in being a depiction, a presentation and a re-imagining of an event, and, to an extent, life, and it’s struggles, and McQueen orchestrates this maelstrom of expressionism with the expert nuance of a veteran, even if his personal insight is sometimes jarring. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Romarth at 12:45, 29 March 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Hunger

I think this is a bit overrated personally. Ok the unflinching depiction of the brutality the IRA prisoners suffered is shocking and really eye opening but apart from that I actually felt the film dragged a bit despite the 90 minute running time. Micheal Fassbender does give a great performance when he's given the chance (namely the scene with Liam Cunningham) but beyond that he really doesn't do much apart from either sitting in his cell or lying in his bed dying. Undoubtedly it's ... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 13:03, 02 March 2009 | Report This Post


Hunger

All the parts to the film capture the harshness of the situation brilliantly. The art of each shot is beautiful in its ability to capture the emotion of each scene. Should have been up for some major oscars for this is powerful art. Well done Mr McQueen I look forward to your future works. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Chris Rees at 23:27, 01 March 2009 | Report This Post


Brilliant, Yet Brutal.

I was well disappointed that Hunger didn't appear in this years Oscars, I heard good reviews and excellent pefomances that should have been noticed. So I rented it out to see why this film was pushed aside for the same old ones. It begins with a man getting ready to go to work, his hands covered in scars and blood from the inmates pushing themselves to death. But when Bobby Sands comes to the jail after a failed hunger strike, he plans another and giving a twenty minute conversation to the local... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 09:27, 01 March 2009 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

A harrowing and distressing viewing experience, regardless of your political leanings. McQueen fashions some wonderful imagery, finding beauty amongst the ugliness and concentrating on the humanity behind the brutality. Arguably, there could have been more attempt to contextualise the events and include the stories of the other hunger strikers, but to be fair that wasn't really the aim and McQueen probably realised that would bring a whole new set of criticisms. Powerfu... More

Posted by MOTH at 09:18, 10 February 2009 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

Tookey completely misses the point, McQueen's point was not show Sand's terrorist side, surely he doesn't condone their treatment or maybe he does.   Apart from Alexander Walker's comment that Fight Club was akin to Nazi propaganda no other film journalist winds me up more.   Continuing sucking Speilberg's cock Tookey, this put to shame SS obvious Hollywood devices used during Schindlers List.   Speilberg would never have the balls to make a film as harsh as this! &... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by agent cooper at 20:50, 04 December 2008 | Report This Post


RE:

Chris Tookey is the biggest i] in Film Journalism, nuff said. Hunger was audacious and balanced in it's treatment, the execution of the prison guard was enough to show McQueen was not going for a one sided view. It wasn't about whether he was idolizing Sand's and his colleagues, more about the fact that the treatment of prisoners was utterly shocking. Magaret Thatcher is one of the most evil women to draw breath Hunger was mesmirising and one of the most sober cinematic experiences of... More

Posted by agent cooper at 20:36, 04 December 2008 | Report This Post


Terrific film, it takes a detached approach yet is very human in what it portrays- absorbing and often Kubrickian in it's style, one of the best films of the year ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ace Rothstein at 01:39, 10 November 2008 | Report This Post


Terrific film, it takes a detached approach yet is very human in what it portrays- absorbing and often Kubrickian in it's style, one of the best films of the year ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ace Rothstein at 01:36, 10 November 2008 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

Although that ail is clearly over the top, I don't completely disagree with the point that this film is rather exploitative in its presentation of the prisoners. It would have been good to balance their plight with mention  of the murders and terror that they committed - political cause or otherwise these men were no saints.   However, the film is successful in its intention of being harrowing, engrossing and brutal. It's one of the toughest watches I can remember, with some of th... More

Posted by Spider at 20:33, 08 November 2008 | Report This Post


RE: hunger

I found the film to be extremely engrossing and beautifully made. It took chances that British films don't normally take and is a very important film for our industry this year. It should also make a star out of Michael Fassbender. I thought Christian Bale took his job seriously in "The Machinist" but Fassbender's dedication to his role was exemplary, and very disturbing to behold. That 20 minute scene with the priest should easily net him some award nominations, though I doubt there's the mone... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RJNeb2 at 13:57, 04 November 2008 | Report This Post


hunger

It's all conceived with the bare minimum of dialogue - that is until Hunger's centrepiece: a fifteen minute-or-so scene involving Fassbender's Bobby Sands and Liam Cunningham's priest, playing Devil's Advocate to Sands's proposed suicide. The scene is almost one shot, and the dialogue has to be the very best to sustain it. It is a beautifully written scene. What follows is all Sands, as he embarks on that 66-day hunger strike, and McQueen doesn't allow the viewer anywhere to hide from the horror... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 08:53, 03 November 2008 | Report This Post


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