Not that McQueen wants to go completely without subtext. This feels like what would happen if Kubrick directed a prison film. There's the animal brutality hiding beneath a refined veneer. In one extreme closeup we see a guard brushing off the crumbs from his perfectly pleated pants before going to work. And there's the idea of the elite working out their ids through their underlings (think of the way the ghosts use Jack in The Shining). Here we have the disembodied voice of Margaret Thatcher echoing primly while her policies are carried out by borderline unwilling guards and Bobby Sands and his crew carrying out the missives of their unseen political bosses. It is in fact this lack of self-determination that Sands evokes when he explains his reasoning for the strike, which has not been sanctioned by his handlers.
So if none of that turned you off, go check it out. You won't soon forget it.
Here's a truly inspired idea: Take a class of 5th graders and task them with designing and building a functional chair using only glue and cardboard. Self-taught lessons in design and dedication ensue in Paul Hunt and Julie Kaufman's doc, as do some kick-ass designs. Unfortunately, the whole thing takes longer than it should to get where it's going, and doesn't justify its 96-minute run time with any deeper insights into education or socio-economic implications (these are public school students in Lancaster County, PA. Would this same experiment work in Philadelphia?). Even slices of the students own lives, while interesting at first, seem kind of random by the end.
Next: What if they made an Iraq War film that didn't suck?