Michael Fassbender here actually takes quite a bit of time to actually even first appear in this film, and when he first does appear he seems to be just part of the crowd of other men who are brutally treated by the guards. It is not until quite a great deal of time into the film when Fassbender finally takes over the film. Nevertheless early in the film Fassbender is just one of the faces of the men who are facing the cruelty of the prison, and in that he along with the others realistically portrays the pain the men are going through. It is an intense visceral pain they bring to life extremely well, and they make the scenes very difficult to watch.
I will say that in these early scenes Fassbender does not exactly stand as the only man in the crowd. This is not a negative though, as it is the group showing he prevailing horror the men face in the prison as well as their united anger of protest for their treatment as well. Again Fassbender early on does not especially stand on his own, but he is part of the cohesive whole of the men who express their frustrations as one of the brutality they have suffered. This actually is completely fitting for the film as a whole since it is very much about how all of the men who are all IRA prisoners come together to work almost as one against the British forces.
It would almost seem that Fassbender is not even lead, only part of ensemble, until well into the film when it exclusively focuses on Bobby Sands who intends to be the first of an organized many to hunger strike to move for reform of their treatment by the prison staff. This all starts though with a very long scene that includes an almost seventeen minute long single take where an Irish sympathetic priest (Liam Cunningham) who attempts to talk Sands out of his most likely to be fatal hunger strike. Although Fassbender was appropriately part of the group of men before this scene once this scene starts Fassbender leaves no question to who is the lead of the film.
An almost seventeen minute shot is certainly a risky undertaking, but it hardly matters as Fassbender, and Cunnigham as well make the scene truly compelling. Michael Fassbender is an actor who has a distinct natural charisma that is not only about his charm, but as well a raw virility. He is just a fascinating actor to watch, and keeping this very long scene interesting never seems to take any effort at all from Fassbender. He is just incredible as Sands, and it is quite difficult to take your eyes off this scene because of Fassbender. He creates a remarkable force and presence within Bobby Sands that cannot be ignored, and is quite overpowering at times.
Fassbender in this scene makes Sands a force of will his will to no matter what make a statement that cannot be ignored even if it means his own death. Fassbender avoids any pretension with his performance, when Sands is talking it is the absolute truth that comes from the very depth of his soul. There is not a hint of hesitation in Fassbender's performance as Sands. Fassbender makes it always clear that the sentiment of Sands is never a lark but an unshakable drive to stand up and be taken notice no matter what the cost. Fassbender is outstanding in the way he brings this incredible passion so vividly to life.
Interestingly enough Fassbender only becomes more engrossing as he tells a tale of Sands' youth where he puts down a wounded animal showing his strength as well gaining the respect of others. In this moment he shows exactly where Sands whole concept of power really comes from, and Fassbender realizes this marvelously. Fassbender has a determination in his eyes which in his eyes that is unforgettable. Fassbender shows us through this story just how forceful this man's will truly is. Fassbender makes it clear that this hunger strike is not just some afterthought or last ditch effort but rather the realization of Sands's whole moral outlook.
After this scene though Sands goes deep down into his hunger strike, and Fassbender's performance almost becomes silent as he quickly goes through an extreme physical decay. Michael Fassbender still is absolutely compelling as Sands slowly dies from his hunger. Fassbender firstly is almost all too real in showing both the degradation of Sands physically, and mentally as well. He shows the absolutely horrendous strain on Sands, but interestingly he never loses that spirit in his performance. Even when he is at the very end suffering from a horrible amount of ailments, there is still that same force of will in his eyes. This is not exactly an easy performance to watch at times particularly at the of the film but it is a perpetually gripping. This is a great performance by Fassbender that creates a memorable moving portrait of this man who is completely devoted to his cause.