Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
United Kingdom/Ireland, 2008. Film4, Channel Four Film, Northern Ireland Screen, Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, Wales Creative IP Fund, Blast! Films, Sound & Vision Broadcasting Funding Scheme. Screenplay by Enda Walsh, Steve McQueen. Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt. Produced by Robin Gutch, Laura Hastings-Smith. Music by Leo Abrahams, David Holmes. Production Design by Tom McCullagh. Costume Design by Anushia Nieradzik. Film Editing by Joe Walker. Independent Spirit Awards 2008. New York Film Critics Awards 2009. Online Film Critics Awards 2008. Toronto International Film Festival 2008.
The events surrounding the hunger strike by IRA members in Maze prison, Northern Ireland in 1981 are captured with wondrously attentive detail by debuting director Steve McQueen (no relation to the actor). Believing themselves political prisoners and not just criminals, the inmates demand to be treated as such, refusing to wear uniforms and living in prison wearing nothing but their blankets. The No Wash Protest doesn’t prove to result in much, so Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) decides to go full speed with starvation and, as a result, his body becomes the film’s story. There are gruesome details from beginning to end, yet the film is strangely beautiful; it avoids detailing who is a hero and who a victim and focuses on the humanity behind all the actions, and yet it is strangely compelling and political. The very human body that becomes the canvas on which McQueen paints his horrifying tale is an epic struggle of its own, while the sparse use of dialogue before and after a 17-minute continuous take of dialogue (between Fassbender and Liam Cunningham as his priest) do so much to create a rich, indelible atmosphere that you won’t shake off easily. Fassbender is astonishing, undergoing an alarming physical transformation to play the gradually wasting Sands in a performance that required medical supervision and is all the more unforgettable as a result.