Posted on 5/26/12 07:41 PM
**** out of ****
Paddy Considine is a very good actor, and apparently a hell of a director as well. "Tyrannosaur" marks his feature debut at the helm, and what an impression it leaves. The film is brutal, unrelenting, mournful, depressing, hopeless, and tough all over. It does not sugarcoat any of its themes as it refuses to divert from realism. One could even say that it is grounded in that particular world. But this is good, because a movie like this requires believability; and while most directors might have whipped out the cinematic spice to give their very own slice-of-life narrative some extra punch, Considine decides to show it how it is, for all it is. Something tells me that a lot of Hollywood's dramatic "talents" could learn a thing or two from the man. He seems to have a firm grasp on what makes human drama effective and how to properly develop his characters over time. Even more impressive is the fact that he is working from entirely original material; aside from taking whatever he can from the harsh reality that he faces and delivering it to us on a silver platter. But artistically speaking, this story hasn't quite been told before; and if it has, not only do I want to be told immediately, but I also want to be reassured that it hasn't been told like it is here.
Peter Mullan gives one of the most chilling and overbearing performances of 2011 as Joseph; widow, alcoholic, possibly psychopath. His establishing scene makes for one of the saddest movie moments of last year or any year at all; in which Joseph is thrown out of a bar and in a drunken rage gives his pet dog a kick in the rib that sends the poor animal to doggie heaven almost immediately. He then carries it home and digs a grave in his backyard, where he buries this old friend. Joseph spends every day either drinking, destroying his shed, letting loose profanity at a rapid and plentiful pace, or struggling to both get out of bed and refrain from endangering those around him. He is an angry man; not clean-shaven, balding, aging, somehow still surviving. He hates the world and the world hates him. Joseph's only family member is bed-ridden and dying. The rest have abandoned him; and his only friends are the fellow bar-dwelling drunks who share his disgust for the people that surround him. It is heavily implied that he could be self-destructive, but why not?
Joseph comes across a small charity shop not far from his house, run by a woman named Hannah (Olivia Colman). At first, they don't seem to identify with one-another at all; Hannah is very kind and religious - even stopping to pray for both Joseph and his ill father - and Joseph is cynical and violent. But as the story progresses, we learn that this is merely a mask. After a day of smiling at customers and taking it as easy as she can, Olivia returns home to a sadistic husband (Eddie Marsan) who says she "fucks like a dead animal" and will sometimes beat her, prompting the poor woman to arrive at work the next day with a black eye. Her most common excuse is that she fell. She tells this to Joseph and he doesn't seem to believe such a tall tale for one moment. But the tragedy of these two tortured souls makes way for a shared connection between the two, something that one person sees in the other that they both find kind of relatable. One is simply better at hiding their demons than the other.
For a while, we wonder why Joseph is so angry at everything and everyone. Eventually, the source is somewhat revealed, although I was not entirely convinced that this one thing could contribute to such uncontrollable ferocity. Perhaps it is an accumulation of that - which I will not name - and all the other things I have mentioned thus far. Life is kinder to some people than it is to others, and Joseph is simply among those others. He lives in a neighborhood that is uncompromising and filled with cruel and vile souls (including a man with a barking dog who harasses his young son and frightens his wife), drinks the ever-so-strong but self-sacrificing drink, and cannot let go of what he has lost in life. Negativity is his cross to bear. And at first, Hannah appears to be some sort of savior; although Considine makes it very clear that he has no intention of going in this direction. Instead, he would rather explore the character's problems and let the two work it out both together and within themselves, where the best kind of resolution often occurs. But these things cannot be accomplished without help.
I've seen a few films in which Mullan has played a small, supporting role; but Joseph is the sort of character that allows him to shine as a merciless dramatic performer. The film in a whole is not a particularly pleasant experience, and while Considine's overall filmmaking techniques that range from taut suspense to bleak depictions of broken down North England neighborhoods certainly contribute to the mood, Mullan's acting expertise prove to be the heart and soul of the picture and its rather grand success. Then there's Olivia Colman, who I only know from another British production - the hilarious cop/buddy comedy "Hot Fuzz" -. She really surprised me here, only having known her from that one movie. Of course, "Tyrannosaur" and "Hot Fuzz" are two very different films, but I don't really see anything in common between the Colman performances in either film, when I put them side-by-side. But maybe that is - in itself - the magic and charm of the performance and the performer. These are two very diverse and talented actors who should have been recognized by the Academy for their brave work in this film.
You probably won't enjoy watching "Tyrannosaur". I know I didn't. It's one of the coldest, meanest, and saddest movies I have ever had the pleasure - or displeasure - to see (or rather, endure). But if you can get through the entirety of it, there is an impressive reward to be found at the end. No, it isn't a message - the only one I can think of here is the familiar "life sucks and then you die" spiel - but rather an aftertaste, and whether you like the film or not isn't going to matter at this point. The film is going to leave you feeling something; whether it's emptiness, fulfillment, a tear rolling down your cheek, or a sense of emotional isolation. In all honesty, Considine's film made me feel all of those things, and more. Joseph is an identifiable cinematic anti-hero in the vein of Travis Bickle and Norman Bates; we know his pain, we would love to just lash out at material things like he does, but we have self-control, something he lacks. The real tragedy is that Joseph was damned at birth; however many he went through, figuratively, in life.