What a powerful, unnerving and fearless debut feature. It is cinema at it’s most stripped-down, a hauntingly visceral look at a man with courage of his convictions. Bobby Sands (Fassbender) is an IRA member and political prisoner in the early 1980s. He and his fellow inmates have been stripped of their status as “political” prisoners as well as their dignity. It is based on a true story, but is far from a biopic, as we don’t get detail on his background, his crime, or those who share his block. All we know is that they protest by refusing to wash, and they smear their own feces on their cell walls to worsen the plight of the guards who abuse them. The title comes from the hunger strike that Sands initiated, resulting in his own death as well as nine others. Fassbender does an incredible job in the role, looking downright frightening as the film wears on, bringing you along for every minute of his terrifying journey. McQueen has an enormous amount of self-confidence by giving us something so constrained, confined and unflinching in his first film. There are very long takes (including the film’s most celebrated scene, a 17 minute uncut stretch of dialogue between two characters with the camera remaining in one fixed position), very little music and often just as little dialogue. You simply have to watch and absorb the inhumane treatment of these prisoners, as their humanity takes center stage over whatever their crimes may have been. You also see the toll it takes on the guards, particularly Lohan (played fantastically by Stuart Graham), who silently loathes his role in all of this as he cleans his bloodied knuckles and checks his car for bombs as part of a morbid daily routine. Nothing about this is pretty or easy to stomach, but it is quite poignant and its viewpoint is vital.