Netflix UK film review: Hunger
Ivan Radford | On 30, Jun 2017
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham
Watch Hunger online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Google Play
It is snowing. A lone man stands outside, a cold, brick building behind him. He is smoking. He goes back inside. His knuckles are red with blood, his wife scared of death when he starts his car in the morning; even for the guards, Maze prison is a hellhole.
Inside, members of the IRA are imprisoned without political status. Urine seeps over the corridors, faeces smear the walls. This is the resistance of the Republican Army. Beaten, de-loused and dehumanised on a daily basis, they are yet to be defeated. Determined to stand his ground, Bobby Sands (Fassbender) decides to lead 75 men in a hunger strike. To the death.
Steve McQueen’s arresting debut starts out at an intense low, with barely a shard of speech for 45 minutes – a bold, bleak move. Things only get worse. Refusing food and nourishment for weeks on end, Sands is a stubborn, emaciated symbol of protest. As his body deteriorates, McQueen’s camera remains unflinching – he doesn’t just show things in graphic detail. He shoves the sickening truth right in your face.
Hinging the 90 minutes of torture on a single scene, the entire philosophy of Sands’ actions is explored in an understated exchange with visiting priest Father Moran (Game of Thrones and Dog Soldiers veteran Liam Cunningham). Capturing the conversation with a subtle stationary shot, Hunger’s stark structure is all the more effective for Fassbender’s dedication to the part. Wasting away into nothingness, his withered form is a disturbingly real transformation to behold.
For all the film’s frank realism, Turner Prize-winning director McQueen injects Hunger with an aesthetic vein. At times simplistic, at others poetic, the candid piece is persistently profound, elevated and fuelled by two breakout artists already at the top of their game – Fassbender in front of the camera and McQueen behind it. Astonishing in its intensity, the result is a forceful, thoughtful look at a dark moment in history. Paving the way for McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and Fassbender’s Macbeth, this blunt, harrowing masterpiece doesn’t just relive the past: it confronts it.
Hunger is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.