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Review: 'Hunger'

Drama about IRA member Bobby Sands's death fast in a Belfast prison looks at the high price of martyrdom.

Brian Milligan plays Davey Gillen and Liam McMahon plays Gerry Campell in the film, which was directed by Steve McQueen.

Courtesy of IFC Films

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"Hunger," the feature film debut of the British video artist Steve McQueen, packs a real wallop. It deals with the last months in the life of Irish Republican Bobby Sands, who starved himself to death in 1981 in Belfast's Maze prison to protest the British refusal to recognize IRA members as political prisoners.

Until recently, given the vast reduction in sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, this film might have seemed like a historical artifact. But the incident involving IRA dissident groups claiming responsibility for the shooting of two soldiers and a police officer gives the movie a newfound immediacy.

McQueen begins his movie by focusing not on Sands but on two other IRA prisoners (played by Brian Milligan and Liam McMahon) who refuse to wear prison-issue clothing. They smear excrement on their jail cell walls and smuggle notes written on cigarette papers. McQueen also follows the workday of a prison guard (Stuart Graham) whose morning routine includes checking his car for bombs. By the time Sands (Michael Fassbender) arrives in Maze, we are well prepared for the horrors that will follow.

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