Paddy Considine, one of the UK’s finest actors turns his hand to directing, with an unsettling work that is as horrifically volatile as it is tender deconstruction of the typical romanticist Hollywood love story.
Tyrannosaur explores the relationship between two very different, but ultimately drawn together figures, Joseph and Hannah. Joseph is an explosive, aggressive man, and one who is presented as to be taking on the world. Hannah, on the other hand, is gentle, a passive woman, whose faith dictates to her that everything will be all right. On the surface at least. Both are alcoholics, and almost inverted caricatures of what they claim to be. Hannah is married to a man that manipulates and beats her, and Joseph is essentially a walking metaphor for the brutal truth of a man broken. His outward visage says one thing, but he feels another. Hannah’s outward projections are very much positive, but inside she is anything but. The film itself charts the way in which the couple meets. Story is ultimately rather slight, but the manner in which said story is plotted ultimately covers over any sense of flimsy.
Structurally the film bounces effectively between the two stories being presented. The first section of the film tells Joseph’s story, while the second tells Hannah’s, before the two narratives become intertwined, reflecting the (love) story at the heart of the work. The film, an extended adaptation of Considine’s earlier short film, the BAFTA award winning Dog Altogether, is a very difficult work to bear witness to. A river of unease runs through the work, from the opening moments of genuinely heartbreaking and wholly gut-wrenching violence, through to the films almost biblical final act. The film is punctuated by contemplative fades, forcing the viewer to linger on what Considine is presenting.
The final sequence in the film recalls the epiphany of Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket, which in itself is a work that deals with faith, by a filmmaker whose own attitude towards religion defined his career. The same scene was paid homage to in Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, with the focus of faith, or the concept of the faith at hand, shifted, but again, produced by a filmmaker whose oeuvre is defined as much by the director’s faith as it was anything else. While Considine’s own religious leanings are thus far unspecified, and I suspect he is more in line with Joseph’s attitude towards Christianity than Hannah’s, its not unreasonable to claim that the films ultimate conclusion is one of spiritual fulfilment.
The central turns are really quite something. Peter Mullan hasn’t been this great in some time, with this films Joseph recalling, coincidentally enough, his work in My Name Is Joe. Olivia Colman is little short of a revelation. While Joseph may be the primary focus of the film, Colman’s Hannah is the ultimate figure of focus in Tyrannosaur. While the film has a relatively small cast, with the majority of the action focusing on the two main players, there are a number of brief supporting performances that are also notable. Eddie Marsan, as the abusive husband of Hannah is introduced to the scenario in quite the manner, with his introductory scene perhaps the ultimate example of the unflinching nature of the film. Ned Dennehy as Joseph’s loyal drunk of a friend provides a hint of humour that is otherwise lacking from the film. Rather than jarring with the overall tone of the picture, Dennehy’s likeable charmer provides moments of respite between the anguish.
Comparisons to Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth are to be expected, no less because of the presence of that films director in the closing credits of Tyrannosaur, with Considine himself stating that he felt as though he and Oldman shared something within their attitude towards their work. Both films take a different approach to the films of Leigh, Loach or the usual crowd of British film in this tradition. Considine has been keen to reinforce that Tyrannosaur is not social realism. While it may tick a few of the boxes of that particular area of the cinema it is very particularly a different beast by design. Considine has was not making an issues movie, nor was he deliberately producing a work of such brutality that it would be misread as being a “shorthand to shock”, in the directors own words. Tyrannosaur defies expectations, and while “profound” is a word that I fear I tend to overuse, it is really quite appropriate here. Tyrannosaur provoked a genuine emotional response from this viewer, and, not just one (emotional response). At times it is terrifying, a sense of omnipresent dread lingers over the work from the opening brutal moments, yet there is a comforting tone as well. Ultimately though, it is a sincere work, one with no pretentions, and one which presents the cinematic truth that so many filmmakers strive for.
2011 is turning out to be something of a vintage year for British filmmaking. Eschewing the tradition of what British cinema is, or is meant to be, a group of young filmmakers have produced works that defy geographical limits, and really attempt to push the boundaries of cinema. The British film industry is in a very good place right now, and there isn’t a corset in sight.