6 March 2010 | freemantle_uk
The brutal life in the Maze Prison
Before Steve McQueen came along, artists turned directors trended to be awful at the job like Tracy Emin (but she has always been an awful artist). But since Steve McQueen there is hope that artists can be good storytellers, with Sam Taylor-Wood also gaining critical success with Nowhere Boy. Here Steve McQueen shows his skill with a brutal tale about the Maze Prison and the political protests IRA prisoners undertook.
In the early 1980s terrorist prisoners in Northern Ireland had their rights as political prisoners removed and IRA prisoners protest by refusing to wear prison uniforms, thereby ending up being nude, and smearing their own feces. Prison guards have to use violence even to clean prisoners and clean their cells. One prisoner, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) who suffers from the violence goes on a hunger strike to force the British government to give in to his demands. He would go on it by himself and was willing to die for his cause. To ensure that this wasn't a pointless sacrifice other IRA men would take his place other he died. As the strike continues Sands' health quickly deteriorates, with the British government standing strong against him.
McQueen shows his skills very quickly, showing the brutal nature of live and showing the dirty live of the prison cells. It is grim but effective and you get the feel of what that live was like. He also shows his ambition, with lots of wide, continuous shots throughout, the main one being when Sands speaks with a priest (Liam Cunningham) about the morality of going on hunger strike. This almost felt like a stage play. McQueen also shows his artist flair with some of the shots, but most of the time keeps the film grounded to real life.
Surprisingly McQueen shows a more balanced picture, showing a prison officer Lohan (Stuart Graham) is a human being, having to protect himself from IRA attacks, and having his wife worry for his life. But McQueen could have shown more, like terrorist attacks conducted by the IRA or British reprisals against them. I am personally a big critic of the IRA, seeing them as no more then terrorist targeting innocent civilians and now really just a criminal organisation. But despite my prejudices I was still gripped by the film, it was not Anglophobic or pro-Nationalist. An interesting parallel with today is with American treatment of Al-Qaida prisoners, where the Republicans and the Right in America want to strip them of their rights, torture them and lock them up indefinitely, whilst the Democrats want to treat them as what there really are, criminals and should have criminal trials. When it comes to fighting terrorism we need to show that we are better then sinking to their level. The film skips over the fact that Bobby Sands won an election to be an MP whilst on hunger strike.
The acting is excellent, particularly from Michael Fassbender who is quickly emerging as a massive hot prospect. He is my second choice to replace Daniel Craig, just after Matthew MacFadyen. Liam Cunningham and Stuart Graham are also worthy of note.
This is a very good film, and an excellent debut by Steve McQueen.