The Full List of Big Thoughts From A Small Mind's 2009 Reviews.
There have been many predictions regarding who the Oscar nominees will be this year. Yet the one thing that is usually left out of these discussions is timing. In a year in where the Academy Awards have expanded the Best Picture category to allow ten films, one of the best films of 2009 is not even eligible to compete. Although Steve McQueen's stunning debut, Hunger, hit most theatres this year it actually was eligible for Oscar consideration last year. If Hunger had been able to compete this year I am sure more people would be singing its praises. Similar to The Hurt Locker, I think Hunger would have benefitted greatly from the new Oscar rules; and what seems to be a weaker competition pool in general this year.
Set in Belfast's infamous Maze prison in 1981, Hunger looks at the events leading up to IRA hunger strike led by Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender). The interesting thing about this tale is that Bobby Sands only really factors into the third act of the film. The first part focuses on a prison guard (Stuart Graham) whose work has scarred him emotionally beyond repair. In the second section we see what has caused the prison guard all the mental distress. McQueen shows us two inmates (Brian Milligan and Liam McMahon) who endure hell while participating in a IRA prisoners' protest wear they refuse to wear prison clothes and bathe. The IRA prisoners do not see themselves as criminals and want to get political prisoners' status from the British Government. The protest results in a volatile and violent standoff against the prison guards. The remainder of the film focuses on why Bobby Sands was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause.
Hunger is a bleak and unrelenting film that will probably drive many viewers mad with its unconventionality. Why should you see it then? Despite its harsh realistic moments, it is an immensely rewarding picture. Hunger is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that not only renews your faith in the future of cinema, but also challenges you ever step of the way. This film raises many questions and shows you both sides of the tale. Yet do not expect any simple answers, this is a film where the viewer must ultimately come up with their own conclusion and the choice is far from easy.
On one hand you must reflect on the war outside the prison before you can look at the one waging within it. Regardless of the events which led to the birth of the Irish Republic Army, the group, during was considered by many to be a terrorist organization. McQueen provides a glimpse of their ruthlessness in a chilling scene at a nursing home. On the other hand, does this justify the harsh treatment that the men had to endure in prison? Does Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s final decision actually mean that the men, though misguided in their methods, were actually fighting for a proper cause on the outside?
The events in Hunger exist completely in a grey area where actions, no matter how horrible, can be justified for and argued against by both sides equally. The only real commentary that McQueen will divulge is that the whole conflict impacted both sides on a deep emotional level. The fact that neither the government/guards nor the IRA prisoners wanted to back down only made the emotional wounds that much deeper.
Hunger may be Steve McQueen's first film but it is far more accomplished than some of the veteran directors working today. This is a film that will resonate with you for a long while. McQueen is able to get extraordinary performances from his cast. One of my favourite scenes in the whole movie is the twenty minute conversation between Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham). There is so much going on in this scene, from both an acting and story standpoint, that it take multiple viewings for all the subtle elements to come fully into view. Michael Fassbender, who was also good in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, gives a phenomenal performance as Sands. We have seen many actors gain and lose weight for a role but few have given a performance so powerful that you actually forget you are watching an actor.
Hunger is a film that will make you angry, gross you out at times, and ultimately make you sad for all the parties involved. Yet it is a film that you must see for the sheer magnitude and brilliance of it all. Hunger is hands down one of the best films of the year.