A quality slice of 'Brit grit' from a director of focussed vision (Steve McQueen) and a lead actor of dedicated skill (Michael Fassbender - read 'talented actor, and deliberately emaciated). Set during 1981 IRA protests ("blanket" and "no food"), the film is consistently hands-off when it comes to the political issues. This is the best way to go, especially as lesser filmmakers would indulge in Thatcher-bashing and vomiting their political agenda upon the viewer.
Instead, quite rightly, Hunger positions itself smack bang in the middle as a mere observer so that the viewer is allowed to make up their own minds. That said, what one is to think about it all is relentlessly complicated, and not being at all knowledgeable about the situation itself (it was before my time, and school history lessons contain precious little about anything, let alone Britain's own history), I'll steer clear of blogging my own views on the big issues.
So yeah, Hunger is a thankfully withdrawn affair when it comes to the politics, as withdrawn as the camera is itself - our view into this world - which in one stand-out sequence in the middle of the film, watches Fassbender's protesting prisoner converse with a priest over twenty minutes. It's rare for such moments to be tense and involving, but McQueen displays Schwarzenegger-sized directorial muscles. Not to say the rest of the film doesn't contain raw, bold and grit-coated power.
Guards performing cavity searches on the naked prisoners is nothing short of harrowing and brutal, while repulsive scenes of excrement-smeared cell walls and urine-soaked corridors leave the viewer reeling. In the deepest sense of the word, this film has a bucket load of style. It is a vision that is clear and concise, a vision which rarely requires non-diegetic music, or even dialogue (for large chunks of the film). At times the film almost plays out like a silent documentary, the combination of a lack of dialogue or music, and intense objectivity simply takes the viewer by the scruff of the neck and sits them down in a place that makes you feel like a fly on the wall.
The final passages in the film - at which point Fassbender's dedication to his art is displayed in his shockingly emaciated frame. If you were stunned by Christian Bale in The Machinist, you'll just be utterly baffled by how on earth Fassbender was able to survive his extreme slim-down.
Brutally honest, always withdrawn, endlessly committed and simply up-front, Hunger is a superb piece of filmmaking. You're not going to want to give it another view for a very long time no doubt, this is about as far from entertainment as you could possibly get, but for a truly memorable and serious film viewing experience, Hunger is it.