More gallery installation than movie, British visual artist Steve McQueen’s highly praised, extravagantly stylized account of the last months in the life of IRA figurehead Bobby Sands (portrayed by Fassbender) is so grueling an experience that watching it borders on masochism. While McQueen is to be commended for jettisoning the standard docudrama approach (Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father told a fictionalized version of Sands’ story in a far more compelling, albeit conventional fashion), his clinical objet d’art treatment never remotely engages the audience on an emotional level. By stripping Sands and his fellow prisoners down to slabs of quivering meat, McQueen robs them of their humanity. It’s one of those impossible-to-love critics’ darlings that’s more interesting to discuss — and even argue about — than it is to watch.
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