Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Blu-Ray Review: Tyrannosaur

Directed by: Paddy Considine
Starring: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan 
 Out now on DVD and Bluray 

A powerful and affecting drama, TYRANNOSAUR follows the story of two lonely, damaged people brought together by circumstance. Joseph (Peter Mullan) is an unemployed widower, drinker, and a man crippled by his own volatile temperament and furious anger. Hannah (Olivia Colman) is a Christian worker at a charity shop, a respectable woman who appears wholesome and happy. When the pair are brought together, Hannah appears as Joseph’s potential saviour, someone who can temper his fury and offer him warmth, kindness and acceptance. As their story develops Hannah’s own secrets are revealed — her relationship with husband James (Eddie Marsan) is violent and abusive — and as events spiral out of control, Joseph becomes her source of succour and comfort. A gripping drama, defined by powerhouse performances and a deeply affecting story, TYRANNOSAUR is written and directed by Paddy Considine, and produced by Diarmid Scrimshaw.
TYRANNOSAUR is the debut feature film from award winning actor Paddy Considine (DEAD MAN'S SHOES). 

Mike and I have often spoken about some popular movie websites and their approach to movie reviewing; that it can sometimes be a little too gushing and rambling. Well, it looks as if I've fallen into that trap again. (My reviews for Drive and the Dead preceeded this). When I truly love a film - everything about it - I have to tell people. So, I make no apologies for the following, that took me a long time to write. Why? Well, firstly because I don't normally review movies like this. I'm far better at giving views on horror or science fantasy films. This was outside my comfort zone. Also, I watched the commentary and found that I echoed the Director's views on how to critique the movie (Considine and his producer discuss the way in which critics perceived the movie) and became self-conscious. Would readers who had listened to the commentary think I was being pedantic? For example, I didn't hold the view that Hannah and Joseph were alcholics. Hannah drank to numb herself to the impending and inevitable beating. Joseph just drank at the pub out of habit, clinging to familiar surroundings and people.That got cut out, but otherwise, I've left this review/feature "uncut" - rambling pace and inappropriate opening comedy line. Talking of which...

Anyone expecting Jurassic Park 4 or a dodgy SyFy movie of the week, with 1990s quality CGI will undoubtedly be disappointed at finding that Tyrannosaur is a powerhouse of a human drama that deserves the previous critical acclaim showered upon it. Like Drive, sometimes the critic collective get it right. Paddy Considine, so good in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes and A Room for Romeo Brass (he's been in a few things but the two movies stand out the most for me), swaps acting for writing and directing here and does an equally good job of it. I should have seen this last year and would have made number two of my Top Ten list, if I'd published one.

Tyrannosaur is a film that makes the viewer feel something. It might not be that you experience feelings that are welcome during its 90 minutes, but I doubt that it’ll inspire nothing. The performances are a benchmark for acting and I don't say that lightly. Because I discovered Paddy Considine through his work with Shane Meadows I have drawn comparisons, but this is by no means a Meadows like production, and certainly not a Meadows-lite production. The similarities are only positive; in the superb casting, well written characters, use of locations, and an unflinchingly honest look at humanity. In essence, it's a love story but one that doesn't follow convention. You could explain what this means with the last look that Hannah gives Joseph in their final frame.

Both Peter Mullan and Olivia Coleman give career defining performances in a cast that has no weak links. It’s a testament to Mullan’s ability that he gets sympathy from the audience, despite being introduced in such an abhorrent way and portraying what most reasonable people would initially describe as a sociopath. Joseph is a lost human being and Mullan conveys this, through Considine's excellent writing. There are a number of instances where the camera lingers on Mullan's face and his reactions. He does a superlative job of conveying the thoughts going through Joseph's mind. You can quite clearly see the machinations of his mind working, from trying to figure out why Hannah is nice to him to trying to figure out what it is he feels for her.

Olivia Coleman is normally attributed to her roles in comedies such as Peep Show and Green Wing, so it’s good to see her get her teeth into a very serious role, to showcase her considerable talents. Her character, Hannah, is instrumental in comforting and looking after Joseph but it’s because she sees something of her life in him. You’ll feel both a mixture of sympathy for Hannah and anger at the life she puts up with, when she has the ability to change it for herself and ultimately does, at a price.

Eddie Marsan, who viewers will have seen in the latest Sherlock Holmes movie as Inspector Lestrade and Sgt Fry in Spielberg's War Horse plays a nasty piece of work in this. His character James reminded me a little of Johnny Harris' character Mick in This is England `86. I don't think it was intentional on Considine's part, and I was only really conscious of it as the actors look very vaguely similar. Marsan is always great value and he does wonders with this role.

Samuel Bottomley plays Sam, the only young person in the story and plays the part at just the right level; with a wide eyed concern, he's one of the few characters who can communicate with Joseph. What happens to Sam is all the more shocking because he's one of the few characters in the movie that doesn't yet seem to be affected by his brutish environment. His mauling is tragic, inevitable and as Joseph states, avoidable. I think it's fair to say that Bod (the boyfriend of Sam's mother) is just a bully with a dog, playing up to his white trash mates. Paul Popplewell plays the part a little too well. He's very good at playing assholes as recently displayed in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror. The shot of him advancing, threateningly towards Joseph topless with a lead around his waist, and dog in front, is comical and real.

All the supporting cast give a good account of themselves. They all effectively play characters that fit into Considine's view of a hellish England suburb. Ned Kelly entertains as Joseph's drinking buddy Tommy. Sally Carman plays Marie, the daughter of Joseph's dying friend with a quiet dignity.

Much has been said about the first scene, when Joseph kills his dog but potential viewers shouldn't be put off. The imagination will conjure up worse images that we actually see. In fact this scene is poignant and tinged with a sadness as we see Joseph carry his dog home and tenderly touch its paws in a display of regret and we get a brief flashback of the attention that Joseph gave it (the dog is a she in real life). There's an ambiguity to Joseph that Considine allows us to see. Was he always an angry man? Some dialogue suggests he was. Marie, Joseph's best friend's daughter asks him if Hannah's injuries bring back any memories, suggesting that Joseph used to abuse his wife when she was alive. It's a great line because there's such history behind it. We then learn that Joseph's wife was diabetic (during a monlogue that exlains the title of the film and it wasn't what I thought) and didn't look after her condition and it eventually killed her, so rightly or wrongly did Joseph lash out in frustration? It's important just to take the character at face value. Hannah sees something in him, what she perceives as good, but then she might have seen that in her horrible husband. Clearly, Joseph has friends so he can't be too bad.

Joseph displays a potential bipolar condition with his rages followed by a quiet reflection on what he's done and then a calm regret. It indicates a goodness in the man even if you could read it that he pauses for thought because he know it's not right to behave like that. Even with his attack on the Post Office it's ambiguous, as we discover that Asian youths have been beating on some of the white neighbourhood. We don't know who started it. Was it the result of a systematic culture of racism in the white neighbourhood or an Asian gang culture that inspired racism against it? We don't know. Nothing in Tyrannosaur is clear cut. We get a snapshot of the life that the characters lead and can make up our own minds as to the motives behind some of the behaviour. There's a danger of overthinking the movie but it's so good that it inspires that.

Considine does a great job of twisting our expectations throughout the film. For example, a tense confrontation between Hannah and her husband, with Joseph watching, in the charity shop could have turned into a physical confrontation between the two men. In lesser written movies, it might have. Every scene appears to have been crafted so very carefully and that's another thing that I love about this film.

When Joseph exacts his vengeance on Bod's dog near the end it elicits an unfortunate but natural feeling of "I'd have wanted to do that". There's something like a samurai ethic in what Joseph does that contrasts with the attack on his own dog, at the beginning. This killing isn't senseless. Joseph doesn't want to do it but feels that he has to before the dog hurts another child, and also because he has an almost autistic reaction to the dog's constant barking; a condition that appears to amplify the barking in his mind. Earlier, he tells the animal that it's not it's fault as if he believes that it's nurture not nature that has made the dog this way. Perhaps, he believes this of himself too as over the course of the movie he learns what it is to be a better person and more than ever recognises that his behaviour as he learns to love again and recognise that it's love he's feeling.

The scene of Joseph sitting on his chair, outside, reminded me of the final scene in John Woo's A Better Tommorrow 2. In that film, the three lead characters, after conducting their own swathe of bloody violence, are found sitting on sofas; bloody and with their weapons. I'm not sure that Considine referenced this movie on purpose but you never know. Joseph is seen clutching the dog's head like a trophy but it's less a trophy than a contrast with the beginning, and a sign that he is very upset and broken down over what has happened to Hannah.

Whilst the movie shows the vilest aspect of humanity, it does give hope. I found relief in watching it, in that I don’t know anyone like Joseph or Hannah’s husband, although I have seen guys like Bod. The ending is full of hope but the world that it is set in inspires a certain cynicism. I didn't leave the film thinking "Boy, that was hard work". The final denoument, whilst Considine might find it slightly cliche (as he describes in the commentary) is fitting and closes the film in a satisfying way for the audience as intended.

It’s easy to make references to movies like Nil By Mouth because there is a similar raw nature about the violence; it’s all too real and doesn’t have the fantasy nature of a violent action film, for example. Tyrannosaur is a quieter and more contemplative film than Nil By Mouth, even if it does share some of the same subject matter. It's not explicit. Viewers may well walk away from screenings talking about the graphic nature of the movie but at crucial moments, Considine spares us from witnessing the actual horror. We are given enough information to know what is going on and it isn't nice. In the commentary Considine expresses his annoyance at the movie being described as "social realism". I can understand his point of view: After all, he's been living with the story and characters for some considerable time. It's a constructed story after all, not a docu-drama.

Erik Wilson's cinematography makes great use of outside locations and juxtaposes them with the inner conflicts that are going on; the mental conflicts that Joseph is suffering and the very real physical conflicts that Hannah is experiencing within her home. Only through each other can each of the characters find a kind of inner peace. Some of the framing is superb, for example when we find Joseph lying outside the charity shop, waiting for Hannah to open up.

Tyrannosaur is a very rewarding movie to watch. I can't help thinking that if this is Paddy Considine's debut what will the rest of his movies be like? I'm excited at the prospect of futher productions from him and judging from comments in the commentary we will be seeing more. He said that he was considering doing a ghost story. That would be worth watching!
Give this a watch and find out what the fuss is all about.

Score 10/10 

- ‘The Making of Tyrannosaur’ Booklet
- Audio Commentary with Director Paddy Considine
- Dog Altogether Short
- Deleted Scenes
- Stills Gallery
- Trailer

DVD Tech specs: R/T: 92 mins / Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 / Region: 2 / Colour Pal / English Language / Stereo 2.0 / Dolby Digital 5.1 / Catalogue number: OPTD2031 / Cert: 18 / Price: £17.99

Blu-Ray Tech specs: R/T: 95 mins / Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 / Region: B / Colour/ Dual Layer BD50/ English Language / 2.0 PCM/ 5.1 DTS-HD Master / Catalogue number: OPTBD2031 / Cert: 18 / Price: £22.99

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