I distinctly remember wincing through the entire last third. But I also recall the peculiar beauty of the cinematography that kept me watching. Leaning against the outer prison wall, a guard smokes a cigarette while the camera focuses on the powdery snowflakes melting on his raw knuckles. Elsewhere, gaunt, unshaven, half-naked prisoners are forced into a chapel; as their collective din blankets the preacher’s sermon, they become indistinguishable replicas of Christ himself. And in a vacant cell, a guard with a pressurized water cleaner gradually loosens the layers of shit that make up a large spiraling mural left on the wall by previous occupants.
Contrasting gruesome subjects with their artistic portrayals is not a new technique in cinema. But films that rely on it are still hard to pull off. Executed correctly, with strong regards to McQueen, they leave viewers both wanting and dreading more.
-- MIKE BERLIN
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