"Hunger," the feature debut of director Steve McQueen, defies such run-of-the mill questions as "Is it a good movie?" or "Should I go see it?" McQueen, a Turner Prize-winning artist who has become a sensation on the museum circuit, has made a film as dazzling as it is unsettling.
Nominally, "Hunger" is about IRA activist Bobby Sands, who in 1981 died in Belfast's notorious Maze prison. But "Hunger" doesn't hew to conventional storytelling. (The script was written by McQueen and playwright Enda Walsh.) Instead McQueen plunges viewers into the unspeakably harsh and violent world of the Maze in a series of scenes of shocking filth and spasmodic violence. The final third of the film, an agonizingly detailed tableau of a man starving to death, will doubtlessly change forever the viewer's understanding of the term "hunger strike." (Most of these sequences transpire without dialogue, with only Margaret Thatcher's periodic pronouncements offered as context.)
McQueen's insistence on lingering on graphic physical degradation in "Hunger" would be utterly gratuitous were it not for the extraordinary 22-minute scene that comes midway through the movie, in which Bobby (Michael Fassbender) debates the ethic of what he's about to do with an acerbic Catholic priest (Liam Cunningham). Staged in one unmoving, unbroken take, the scene is a tour de force of writing, acting and riveting moral complexity. McQueen has taken the raw materials of filmmaking and committed an act of great art.
-- Ann Hornaday (April 3, 2009)
Contains graphic violence, profanity and brief nudity.