Hunger

Critics Consensus

Unflinching, uncompromising, vivid and vital, Steve McQueen's challenging debut is not for the faint hearted, but it's still a richly rewarding retelling of troubled times.

90%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 125

83%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 74,248
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Movie Info

The final months of Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army activist who protested his treatment at the hands of British prison guards with a hunger strike, are chronicled in this historical drama, the first feature film from artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen. Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) is an IRA volunteer who is sentenced to Belfast's infamous Maze prison, where he shares a cell with fellow IRA member Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon). Like most of the IRA volunteers behind bars, Gillen and Campbell are subjected to frequent violence by the guards, who in turn live with the constant threat of assassination at the hands of Republicans during their off-hours. Campbell and Gillen are taking part in a protest in which they and their fellow IRA inmates are refusing to wear standard prison-issue uniforms as a protest against Britain's refusal to recognize them as political prisoners, a move that is complicating their efforts to pass information among the other prisoners. As the protest fails to get results, one IRA member behind bars, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), decides to take a different tack and begins a hunger strike, refusing to eat until Irish officials are willing to acknowledge the IRA as a legitimate political organization. However, while Sands' protest gains the attention both inside prison walls and in the international news, not everyone believes what he's doing is right, and Sands finds himself verbally sparring with a priest (Liam Cunningham) who questions the ethics and effectiveness of the strike. Hunger received its world premiere at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, where it was screened as part of the Un Certain Regard program. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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Cast

Michael Fassbender
as Bobby Sands
Liam Cunningham
as Father Moran
Stuart Graham
as Ray Lohan
Helena Bereen
as Ray's Mother
Karen Hassan
as Gerry's Girlfriend
Larry Cowan
as Prison Guard
Laine Megaw
as Mrs. Lohan
Frank McCusker
as The Governor
Lalor Roddy
as William
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News & Interviews for Hunger

Critic Reviews for Hunger

All Critics (125) | Top Critics (36)

  • Midway through the movie there's an epic 24-minute scene...in the claustrophobic cell block the protesters have already internalized their cause so deeply that the world of words seems distant and inconsequential.

    Apr 17, 2009 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • It's a strength of this carefully composed, almost obsessively controlled picture that it has no interest in the conventional biographical focus on a subject.

    Apr 17, 2009 | Rating: 3/4
  • Hunger is daunting and powerful work.

    Apr 16, 2009 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • Hunger is not about the rights and wrongs of the British in Northern Ireland, but about inhumane prison conditions, the steeled determination of IRA members like Bobby Sands, and a rock and a hard place.

    Apr 16, 2009 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • Hunger -- the disturbing, provocative, brilliant feature debut from British director Steve McQueen -- does for modern film what Caravaggio did to Renaissance painting.

    Apr 10, 2009 | Rating: 4/4
  • Relying on images more than words, it's a plea for humanity in times of insanity.

    Apr 10, 2009 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Hunger

  • Sep 14, 2015
    One of the most daring and impressive directorial debut's I've ever seen, Hunger could easily be taught in any filmmaking 101 class.
    John K Super Reviewer
  • Mar 22, 2014
    I have never seen such a brutal, gut-wrenching prison film in my life! Complex emotionally and philosophically, the tensions never let up. Fassbender's commitment to the role is nothing short of astounding. The inhumanity and control of McQueen's first film towers above that of even his Oscar award winning "12 Years A Slave". If you're looking for raw, honest but brutal reality, this is a film for you.
    Christian C Super Reviewer
  • Dec 27, 2013
    Applying a personal directing trademark that we have already seen in similar fashions before, Steve McQueen dramatizes the second hunger strike led by volunteer and M.P. of the Provisional Irish Republican Army Bobby Sands. As always, the main intention of the director is to challenge ideals and the audiences' perceptions about his characters. With his directorial debut, an extraordinary work of fundamentalist ideologies that won the Caméra d'Or in 2008, McQueen intelligently contrasts the motivations behind the movement and the horrid life conditions in the Maze Prison in Belfast, and on the other hand, the constant assassination threats of the British prison guards by the Republicans during their normal lives. The most extraordinary highlight of the feature is a single shot that lasts 1030 seconds, in which IRA activist Bobby Sands and the priest Dom, with a previous small talk etiquette (mirroring the ridiculous management of political motives in the actuality, if I might add), engage in a heated discussion, each one of them expressing their fundamentalist (and fanatic) perspectives regarding the social conflict and the upcoming hunger strike. With phrases that go from the discussion of the Bible to the "appreciation of life", both sides pretty much sum up the political/religious classes that have put modern society into such a devastating form. None of them are right, even if they think they are right, whether it is a "I believe that a united Ireland is right and just", to "God would have to punish you for stupidity." Arrogance and closed minds on both sides, the film shows terror, violence and the unfortunate present state of things: as long as these sides exist (with political interests involved), there shall never be a communal agreement. 96/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Nov 14, 2013
    Certain places and people are given labels that define them. Those labels are not always accurate of what they represent. In prisons it is commonly associated that the prison guards are providing protection while the prisoners are a deadly force. While not the first nor the last film to challenge that notion it is a film you experience rather than simply seeing it. Hunger is about Irish republican Bobby Sands leading the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike. Like mentioned earlier Hunger is more of an experience than it is a traditional film. Minimal dialogue, a deliberate slow pace to build up an atmosphere, action speaking for emotion, and a non-traditional narrative. It shows very little of anything that occurs outside of prison working towards it purpose. Attempting to emulate the same isolation, dreary, and violent mood of the very harsh Maze prison its representing. Becoming able to get across characters psychology without much words. Slowly demoralizing the inhabitants both who are entrapped in it and those working there. Yet despite all of its desolate emotions a glimmer of hope is given resulting in a difficult viewing of Bobby Sands decaying body to serve a greater good. The hardest thing to stomach is not what the film does show, but rather what it doesn't show. We're introduced to a prison guard in the beginning of the film who becomes minor character. He's never given an arc of any kind that shows his psychology or what drove him to commit his action. Another character introduced is newly incarcerated inmate Gillen whose vision of the prison never comes full circle. Gillen serves to present how one would first view the dreadful room that traps and consume sanity, but shifts in focus to follow another inmate forgetting his part of the story. Hunger does not say allot words which it makes up for how it chooses to express itself. Steve McQueen is relentless and cold in his depiction of the Maze prison. His frequents use of one-point perspective and wide shots remain motionless for lengthy periods of time. This technique is wonderfully engrossing allowing to witness harmful treatment and environment detail for great lengths of time. Never do we see the outside of the prison, giving the viewer the impression that our characters have been locked away so long that they don't know how the outside even looks like anymore. Becoming claustrophobic into isolationism where the sight of a cells smeared with feces becomes routine instead of seeming out of the ordinary. Another technique that McQueen uses is showing brief snippets of a scene, then cutting away, to let the viewer imagine how the rest will play out; but the key is that he never cuts too early, so that the viewer is left to imagine as to what is going on. Michael Fassbender gives an extraordinary performance as Bobby Sands: to make his hunger strike credible the actor lost weight to the point of emaciation, and yet this physical portion of his role, appalling though it is, does not compare to the nonverbal language of his face while he ends his life. Hunger narrative doesn't match its atmospheric strength and focus, but visually captures the harsh reality of its environment. It's as moving as it is depressing to see becoming routine seeing the true ugliness a person's life can be reduced too. More than just film you view as Hunger is a dreary, but absorbing atmospheric experience.
    Caesar M Super Reviewer

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