Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur – Blu-ray / DVD review
One of the most acclaimed British films of last year. Althoug unfairly snubbed at the BAFTAs in one key category, I’m actually inclined to agree that it doesn’t quite scale the heights of the best homegrown movies of 2011.
(Paddy Considine, GB, 2011)
A fierce but flawed debut, whose strengths (the acting) and weaknesses (an overstretched story) date back to the project’s origins as a short
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the great, raw talents of English acting will slink off behind the camera, make an acclaimed, accomplished directorial debut and then reappear on screen without a thought of continuing their second career, never to direct again. Think of Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth, Tim Roth’s The War Zone or Samantha Morton’s The Unloved.
I hope that Paddy Considine won’t be one of them, if only because his debut doesn’t quite hit with the force you’d expect. Tyrannosaur is certainly a solid – and superbly acted – work but it feels very much like a filmmaker finding his voice rather than the anguished, autobiographical howl of the soul those previous actors-turned-directors delivered.
Having seen Considine’s award-winning short, Dog Altogether – the key extra on the Tyrannosaur disc – which introduced the central duo of Peter Mullan as violent stray Joseph and Olivia Colman as the timid charity shop worker (then known as Anita, renamed Hannah for the film) who might be his salvation, it’s obvious that Tyrannosaur wasn’t a project Considine had been burning to make. It feels more that the characters got under his skin, to the point where 15 minutes of screen time wasn’t enough and he needed to give them further exercise.
And so the slightest of sketches is bulked up to feature-length, largely by ramping up the Biblical intensity of these characters. It’s exactly the kind of film you’d expect from an actor whose collaborations with Shane Meadows have been a similar purging of violent souls – but stripped of Meadows’ cheekiness, so that a jaunty, folk-indie soundtrack sounds terribly out of place amidst the bleakness. Joseph’s daily routine is composed of booze, the venting of his simmering rage and the glimmer of tenderness in his relationship with a neglected boy across the road, while Hannah’s apparent suburban bliss hides an even bigger monster than Joseph in husband James. Suffice to say, it matters less that he’s played by Eddie Marsan than that he’s introduced, face unseen, pissing on his wife as she sleeps.
In outline, this is surprisingly schematic, clichéd stuff for Considine (a bringer of real range and subtlety as an actor), especially the overcooked symbolism that rhymes humans with dogs who are variously chained, loyal, fierce and helpless victims. But those characters won’t go away, and Mullan and Colman disappear into their roles until the film’s faults melt away. Mullan is hard as granite, but it’s the sadness in his eyes – not the anger – that you feel. And Colman’s cheery disposition pulls the rug out from any generalisation about how abused women are supposed to behave, since she can backchat and drink better than most screen Christians. Such strong personalities merge, so that Joseph helps Hannah to find hidden strength and, in turn, Hannah softens Joseph’s harder edges. The characters are so strong they eventually pull the story apart for a denouement that offers more narrative surprise than anything that has gone before.