Film Reviews


By • Jan 3rd, 2009 •

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Breathtaking and astonishing. My pick for Best Picture of the Year. See this for one of cinema’s greatest ever scenes, simply tagged as “The Scene”.

I watch a lot of MSNBC’s series “LockUp” and “LockUp Raw”. I know what the gang tats mean and how to make a shank out of a piece of paper. I know how to make invisible ink out of my urine. I know what a “prison pocket” is and I’d know what to do when there is a “Jura Call”. However, compared to the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in the late 70s and 80s, our prisons are country clubs. Lifers, if you’re not doing time in a NGO’s “Locked Up Abroad” country, you are sitting pretty.

IRA member and convicted gunrunner Bobby Sands (pictured, Michael Fassbender) is already in Belfast’s Maze Prison when Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) is processed and placed in the prison’s H-Block for suspected IRA terrorists. He refuses to wear prison-issue clothing since IRA members do not consider themselves criminals but political prisoners. Davey is given a blanket. It’s called a “blanket protest” and Davey is put in an excrement filled cell with IRA member Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon). Every prisoner in H-Block is naked and just wearing a blanket.
The conditions are shocking and horrendous. Prisoners are cruelly beaten and starved. When they refuse to wash they are dragged out of their cells naked and their hair and beards roughly cut. Then they are thrown into a tub of water. There are frequent beatings by rows of guards during brutal searches of their “prison pocket”.

When none of their demands are met, Sands, as O/C (Officer Commanding) of H-block prisoners, decides to begin a hunger-strike.

(A brief history of Bobby Sands is below.)

And thus The Scene. Sands meets with a priest, Father Moran (Liam Cunningham), and discusses why he has decided on a hunger strike. He expects to die. This 23-minute scene was filmed in one take. There are no cutaways. HUNGER now is the holder of a new world record that will not be easily matched or surpassed. Filmed on specially altered film stock (normal reels hold only ten minutes), both actors face each other across a small table. The actors said they rehearsed the scene 15 to 20 times a day for five days. The scene was filmed four times; the fourth take was the one used in the film. The previous modern record holder is an eight-minute scene in THE PLAYER.

The shock of seeing Bobby Sands’s hunger strike was so disturbing that I was certain that reverse CGI (the same type of technical magic that made Brad Pitt twenty years old again in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) was used. Not so. I did some research.

Besting Christian Bale’s devastating weight loss in THE MACHINIST, Fassbender is said to have lost more than 50 lbs. This is absolutely terrifying. We see the bedsores and frightening weight loss on Fassbender’s face and body.

To achieve this radical physical disintegration, the production shut down and Fassbender flew to Los Angeles and lived on berries and nuts for ten weeks. “The nutritionist said that I shouldn’t eat less than 900 calories a day,” Fassbender said in an interview. “But the weight wasn’t coming off, so for the last four weeks I went down to 600 a day”.

The director and co-screenwriter (with Enda Walsh), Steve McQueen, in his first film, arrives as a fearless, visionary filmmaker. McQueen and Walsh also offer us a view of the guards who must work in H-Block. They too are prisoners dealing in an excrement and urine soaked environment and live in fear of being murdered by IRA members.

A Brief Biography of Bobby Sands

At eighteen Bobby Sands (pictured) joined the Republican Movement. In October 1972, he was arrested. Four handguns were found in a house he was staying in and he was charged with possession. He spent the next three years in the cages of Long Kesh where he had political prisoner status. In 1976 Bobby was released. He reported to his local unit and straight back into the continuing struggle. Within six months Bobby was arrested again relating to a bomb attack.

The judge admitted there was no evidence to link Bobby, or the other three young men with him, to the bombing. The four of them were sentenced to fourteen years each for possession of the one revolver that was found in a car they were in.

Bobby spent the first twenty-two days of his sentence in solitary confinement. For fifteen of those days he was completely naked. He was moved to the H-Blocks and joined the blanket protest.

Bobby became the spokesman for the blanket men and spent several spells of solitary confinement. In the H-Blocks, beatings, long periods in the punishment cells, starvation diets and torture were commonplace as the prison authorities, with the full knowledge and consent of the British administration, imposed a harsh and brutal regime on the prisoners.

On October 27th, 1980, seven prisoners in the H-Blocks began a hunger strike. Bobby volunteered for the fast but instead he succeeded, as O/C (Officer Commanding), Brendan THE DARK Hughes, who went on hunger-strike with seven other men.

After a compromise was reached with the British Government, Hughes ended the hunger strike after 53 days. However, when the document arrived at the prison the five demands presented to the British Government were refused. The demands were: (1) No prison uniforms; (2) No prison work; (3) Free association; (4) Full remission; and (5) Visits, parcels, and recreational/educational facilities.

Bobby volunteered to lead the new hunger strike. Bobby realized that someone would have to die to win political status. Bobby Sands ordered the second hunger strike in 1981 in which he and nine other inmates died.

At 1:17 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5th, having completed sixty-five days on hunger-strike, Bobby Sands MP, died in the H-Block prison hospital at Long Kesh.

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