Hunger

After his short but memorable role as undercover operative Lt. Archie Hicox in the WWII epic, “Inglourious Basterds,” Michael Fassbender shot to the top of my actors to watch list. Quentin Tarantino’s film may have put him on the map, but even before its release, Fassbender was earning strong reviews for his performance in artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen’s directorial debut, “Hunger.” As Bobby Sands, the real-life IRA member who went on a hunger strike in protest of the British government’s refusal to recognize him and his fellow Maze inmates as political prisoners, Fassbender completely immerses himself in the role with Christian Bale-like dedication. It’s a pity he doesn’t actually show up until the second act, because it only makes those first 30 minutes seem that much less significant. While a lot of that time is spent setting the mood within the prison (from the poor living environment to the brutality handed down by the guards), “Hunger” doesn’t really get going until Fassbender makes his grand entrance – and even then not a whole lot really happens. In fact, with the exception of a 16-minute, single-shot conversation between Sands and an Irish priest (Liam Cunningham), the movie is pretty forgettable due to an overall lack of character development. It’s still worth checking out for Fassbender’s committed performance, but it’s not quite the modern masterpiece that Criterion would have you believe.

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The Escapist

There have been a wealth of jailbreak films throughout the course of history, but only a few can be considered true classics. Rupert Wyatt’s directorial debut, “The Escapist,” doesn’t quite make the cut, but it’s definitely one of the better entries in the genre. The always reliable Brian Cox stars as Frank Perry, a prison convict serving a life sentence who devises a plan to break out when he discovers that his daughter is dying. In order to do so, however, he’ll have to convince the right players (including Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham and Seu Jorge) to join his crew and outwit the cell block’s brutal kingpin (Damian Lewis). There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, but the cast does well enough to keep things interesting – especially Cox, who delivers yet another fine performance in an otherwise underrated career. Though “The Escapist” begins to drag towards the end, the film’s killer twist ending makes it more than worth sticking around for. It might not have gotten the U.S. release that it deserved, but this old-school jailbreak film is a smarter, better acted, and much more realistic version of FOX’s hit drama, “Prison Break.”

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