Tyrannosaur (2011)

08 October 2011

MP here

At no point in Tyrannosaur, the directorial feature debut by Paddy Considine, does the film do anything - either narratively or visually - that you didn't expect it to. A toothless and redundant expansion of Considine's already overrated BAFTA-winning short Dog Altogether (2007), the film is an ugly and strained drama, complete with contrivances, caricatures and, whenever its story hits an editorial dead-end, plenty of acoustic guitar that heightens its mannerist violence.

Reprising his role from the earlier short, Peter Mullan is Joseph, a widower prone to hateful rage, whose flight from a violent incident fuelled by alcohol prompts an encounter with Olivia Colman's charity shop worker, Hannah. Hannah prays for a defensive and startled Joseph. After suffering a revenge attack from local youths following his own attack on their property, Joseph seeks further sanctuary at Hannah's shop, but derides the positivity of her Christian beliefs and what he presumes is a comfortable existence relative to his own.

Naturally, Hannah has her own violence to deal with: that of once-loving hubby James (Eddie Marsan), who is introduced to us as he drunkenly returns home to find his wife asleep on the living room settee and decides there and then to piss on her. Days after giving his wife a black eye, James visits Hannah's work and finds her helping Joseph smarten up for a friend's funeral; when she finally returns home that night after drunken deferral, Hannah is further abused by her husband, drawing her closer thereafter to Joseph.

This mutual dependency is as contrived as the general theme of redemption is tired. Furthermore, though Considine's framing is creditably smooth, resisting as it does the temptations of handheld, his general milieu is painfully lacking life. Though a focus on our two protagonists allows something resembling nuance, side characters never rise beyond caricature; an early bar scene involving three teenagers quickly becomes laughable in the same way similar scenarios unfolded in Gran Torino (2008), whereas an ongoing subplot with a dog-wielding neighbour reeks of forced, unaccounted-for misery.

Colman is excellent, managing a wealth of difficult emotions often simultaneously; that shot in which she comforts her weeping husband after he apologises for an earlier bout of rage, reciprocating his declarations of love with a by-the-numbers voice contradicted only by the hateful expression she knows he cannot see, is as effective as a later scene, in which she despairingly calls for Joseph to comfort her, is moving.

Whether through aesthetic choice or budgetary limits, an absence of extras for the most part imbues a double-edged sparseness to the film's world, lending its characters a symbolic solitude whilst at the same time making it difficult for us to fully believe these characters exist as anything beyond ciphers. The fact that a hospitable, forgiving Christian such as Hannah has absolutely nobody to turn to but Joseph following an (in)conveniently-timed outbreak of domestic violence doesn't quite ring true, for instance; if the charity shop she runs is as barren of custom as every scene set there seems to suggest, surely it would have by now ceased to feasibly exist in this most brutal economic climate...?

Apparently, though, these things are to be overlooked. Instead, the film is being praised as one by which a new directorial talent marks its presence on the British film scene. Viewers' previous familiarity with Considine as a talented and agreeable actor has no doubt aided his critical reception as director; indeed, it's as if British critics need to clutch at any straw that might lend support to their frankly anaemic argument that the industry is doing well in spite of financial woes.

But the film has its gnawing problems. Some are more fundamental than others: throughout it betrays its source, feeling much like a short film bloated to feature length; furthermore, there's no real interest in or interrogation of the social forces by which its characters have arrived where they are - providing instead some personal background given by one character in response to the other's prying, which doesn't answer anything at all (Joseph telling Hannah about his dead wife doesn't get to the bottom of why he tormented her in the first place, of why he is inclined towards violence and inner rage).

Less fundamental is the clumsily handled reveal late in the film, which neither resolves itself nor makes anything of its ambiguity anyway; at any rate, a world in which a murder/suicide victim such as the one here - presumably with a job and other commitments - can be left unfound for days is a questionable one at best. The confusion stemming from this reveal might be a result of storytelling inexperience; though how producers and other creative heads didn't call Considine up on it is anyone's guess.

Considine hints in interviews that he wasn't interested in making "an issues film", but I suspect that's something of a strawman argument on his part, because one needn't steer clear of reality in order to avoid "an issues film". His decision seems to be an aesthetic one, but it exposes the film's political limits; and we can't assume Considine is only interested in "telling an engaging story" or something equally trivial, because the film contains particular incidents in a carefully judged tone. At any rate, the extent to which a work represents reality is to the artist's discretion, but without a full understanding of this reality, the artist is limited to broad strokes from which no genuinely vivid picture can emerge.