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Hunger Blu-ray/DVD

Studio: Criterion

Apr 23, 2010 Steve McQueen Bookmark and Share

“Let’s be quiet,” Hunger director Steve McQueen says, raising his index finger to his lips during a video interview. “Let’s shut up and just look, observe, before one makes a judgment of anything.” At that moment in the interviewincluded as a special feature on this Criterion releaseMcQueen is explaining his decision to abandon dialogue throughout much of his impressive and sometimes disorienting debut feature, which depicts the disturbing events leading up to the starvation and death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in the Maze Prison outside of Belfast, Ireland in 1981.

A renowned visual artist from England, McQueen speaks in bold, rapid-fire statements, and his lively 17-minute interview is the perfect antidote for his bleak, methodically paced film. There’s an experimental quality to Hunger‘s narrative structure; its first 30 minutes focus on a prison guard and two inmates while the camera slowly lingers on atmosphere (the prison’s excrement-caked walls and urine-covered floors, for example). Eventually, the film gravitates to Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), and the drama is galvanized when he and a Catholic priest (Liam Cunningham) debate the repercussions of his intended hunger strike. 17 minutes of the sharp-tongued exchange (written by award-winning playwright Enda Walsh along with McQueen) were shot in an astonishing single take. Executed impeccably by Fassbender and Cunningham, the scene is one of the most enthralling conversations ever depicted on camera. Also remarkable is Fassbender’s physical transformation in portraying Sands’ dying days.

McQueen demonstrates a precise eye for composition, but Sean Bobbit’s cinematography is at times too attractive; it gives the film a romantic auraparticularly near the endthat undermines McQueen’s purported aim for objectivity. Grittier and more immediate is the 45-minute episode of the BBC news program Panorama, included as a special feature. Titled The Provos’ Last Card? (Provos being the Provisional Irish Republican Army, more commonly known as the IRA), the program was produced shortly after Sands’ death and, through numerous interviews, surveys the political and civilian climate in Northern Ireland at the time. It’s essential viewing, an oftentimes chilling document of late 20th century history. Also included as special features are a 13-minute interview with Fassbender and a 13-minute making-of documentary.

The Caméra d’Or, a prize given to debut features at Cannes, was awarded to Hunger in 2008. (

Read a 2008 Under the Radar interview with director Steve McQueen.

Read a 2009 Under the Radar interview with actor Michael Fassbender.

Author rating: 7/10

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April 26th 2011

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