Steve McQueen has made substantial waves in the film industry, especially considering he has only made four feature-length films to date. McQueen, born and raised in West London, spent the early years of his career in short film. He is disciplined behind the camera, often giving unflinching portraits of historical figures and examinations of society through fictional realism. He was the first black filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Picture because of 12 Years a Slave. He is indeed a greatly talented director whose career appears to still be on the rise. Here is a ranking of his feature-length work to date.
With Hunger, McQueen gives a deeply personal look at the legacy of Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender). Sands was a member of the Irish Republican Army who was imprisoned for his belief that Ireland should be an independent republic. In defiance of the prison and the nation at large, Sands and his fellow Irish republican prisoners embarked upon a hunger strike in 1981, during which Sands was elected as a member of Parliament and subsequently died as a result of the strike. The film shows up-close the gruesome protests put on by the prisoners and their unrelenting resolve, especially that of Sands. Fassbender gives perhaps the most powerful performance of his career in McQueen’s best film to date.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
McQueen’s deeply emotional portrayal of the life of Solomon Northup earned him much praise. Rightfully so, the gorgeous and chilling film refuses to shy away from the horrifying abuses of slavery through the eyes of one of its tragic recipients. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a powerful performance as Northup, a freeman who was kidnapped and sold back into slavery. The film follows the decade-plus between his capture and rescue. McQueen captures heartbreakingly the unimaginable torture of achieving sweet freedom, only to have it ripped from you once more. With strong supporting performances from Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and more, 12 Years a Slave is easily one of the most haunting contemporary films about American slavery.
McQueen’s most recent piece, Widows, is based off a British drama series of the same name from the 1980s. Along with Gillian Flynn—the mind behind Gone Girl and Sharp Objects—he adapted the series for both film and the modern day. Viola Davis plays Veronica Rawlings, wife of career thief Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). When Harry and his team are killed on the job, they leave a sizable debt to a local crime family (Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya). Veronica is given a choice to either accept the repercussions of her husband’s mistake or come up with enough money to pay back the debt. She and the widows of her husband’s partners must come together to pull of a heist to pay their husbands’ collective piper. It is a tense, gripping film with a bleak, cynical assessment of the world today.
In Shame, their second of three collaborations—so far—Michael Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, a Manhattan executive and sex addict. His high-speed, no-commitments lifestyle is critically disrupted when his sister Sissy (Carrie Mulligan) stays with him. The film is deeply explicit and holds a rating of NC-17 in the United States. Like the rest of McQueen’s films, it is honest to a fault and as a result can be hard to watch. The severity with which Brandon and his addiction is treated is characteristic of McQueen’s commitment to realism. Though it is the weakest of his films to date, it was nonetheless lauded, which speaks to his talent as a filmmaker.