Not just the toughest film of the year but amongst the toughest ever made. Steve McQueen’s dynamic portrayal of the officially ignored IRA prison during the hunger strike in 1981 is far more an endurance test than a compelling story, nevertheless in terms of sheer filmmaking it’s right up there amongst the most well-crafted films of the year.
With little to no dialogue short of a twenty-minute passage in the middle, McQueen portrays the horror and hardship of the situation with no restraint or indulgence. Faeces lines the walls, the scrawny unkempt prisoners are often fully nude and thrown about like rag dolls, when the riot squad comes in the focus is not just on their brutality but the way one of the men breaks down sobbing over the job he must do.
A subplot about a paranoid guard working at the prison ends abruptly in an unexpected way, while the last half-hour is spent literally watching actor Michael Fassbinder’s character seemingly starve himself to death as he ignores food placed near him and his body functions start to shut down. The “300” actor’s performance is up there with Christian Bale’s “The Machinist” work, showing off an actor utterly dedicated past the point of losing dignity and into an area that dangerously compromises his own health.
Then of course there’s that twenty-minute middle segment. Two single takes of about ten minutes each, one a close-up the other a shot of two people talking over a table, is one of the most compelling scenes of cinema in ages. .