Sunday, February 14, 2010

Film Review: HUNGER (2008, Steve McQueen)

Stars: 3.2 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Fassender, Stuart Graham, Brian Milligan, Liam Cunningham.
Tag-line: "A compelling and unforgettable portrayal of life within the maze prison at the time of 1981 IRA hunger strike. An odyssey, in which the smallest gestures become epic and when the body is the last resource for protest."
Best one-liner: Not really that kind of movie.

I was pretty confused for a while. Why wasn't Ali McGraw in this? Where were the motorcycle stunts? The likable, sandy-haired irreverence?

In all seriousness, though, I was blown away upon my first viewing of HUNGER. The fourth major-motion picture telling of Bobby Sands' tale since 1996 (coming in the wake of SOME MOTHER'S SON, H3, and IL SILENZIO DELL'ALLODOLA), HUNGER has the body-horror of VIDEODROME, the quotidian-horror of THE PIANO TEACHER, the fecal-horror of SEVEN BEAUTIES, and the establishment-horror of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

But then, as the days passed, I found that the film's power began to shrivel. I began to think that maybe it should have been titled, 'STEVE MCQUEEN IS HUNGRY TO BECOME JULIAN SCHNABEL.' It's not that I can say anything bad about this film- it succeeds at being the epitome of 'viscerally disturbing'- but there's deceptively not a whole lot to it. Michael Fassbender's performance is brilliant, dangerously committed, and shockingly honest. His suffering is ours. But we're only entreated to Bobby's motivations, politics, moral quandaries, and notorious sense of humor in one (lengthy) scene, which, in my opinion- contrary to those who call it the centerpiece- seems to have been added nearly as an afterthought. Said scene is exceptionally well-acted by Fassbender and a priestly Liam Cunningham, but instead of showing, like he has excelled at for the entire duration thus far, McQueen resorts to telling, with a static, verbose long shot.

And the whole 'actor starving himself for a role' seems- inappropriate as it may be- weirdly passé, with all the press for Bale in THE MACHINIST (2004) and Jeremy Davies in RESCUE DAWN (2006). But Michael Fassbender is certainly committed, and the brutalization he endures for this film may well become the stuff of legend.

Oddly enough, I saw it in a chance double-feature with Marco Ferreri's LA GRANDE BOUFFE, where bourgeois fucknuts EAT themselves to death. Where Ferreri's film is a point of departure for larger questions, HUNGER is a self-contained document, the kind of movie aimed at your gut. But, to paraphrase Mamet: "Great [fasts] fade in reflection."

-Sean Gill

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