Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Tyrannosaur

Directed by: Paddy Considine

Produced by: Diarmid Scrimshaw
Mark Herbert

Screenplay by: Paddy Considine

Starring: Peter Mullan
Olivia Colman
Eddie Marsan
Paul Popplewell

Cinematography by: Erik Wilson

Editing by: Pia Di Ciaula

Studio(s): Warp Films
Inflammable Films

Distributed by: Screen Gems (United States/Canada)
StudioCanal UK (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): January 21, 2011 (Sundance Film Festival, World Premiere)
October 7, 2011 (United Kingdom and Ireland)

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Budget: £750,000

Box office revenue: (Unavailable as of publication)

Hey gang, me again. As ever, I have updates on the film front. I have now seen Barbarossa: Siege Lord, which will be the subject for my next reviews. Also, when it comes to schedule, Never Let Me Go will be watched in the next day or two, on Friday I'll be making a trip to the Strand to see either Real Steel or Contagion and I'll try to get to see something in the Queen's Film Theatre over the weekend for either We Need To Talk About Kevin or The Ides Of March. I Saw The Devil will be reviewed next month, as will The Adjustment Bureau, as I managed to pick up a copy on Tuesday. Finally, this is old news I know, but just go and watch The Wrestler. I have a tear in my eye listening to the Bruce Springsteen title track, and it has reminded me that I need to get down to watching my Best Film of 2008 once again.

Right, so let's get down to unearthing Tyrannosaur. This is the feature directorial debut of Paddy Considine, one of the best working actors in film at this time. Having made his name in films with a gritty, vérité style working with directors such as Shane Meadows, Jim Sheridan and Paul Greengrass, it will comes as no surprise that his first film is of the same ilk. The film stars Peter Mullan, coming off a career high writing and directing the fantastic Neds, as Joseph, a violent-tempered alcoholic, who becomes friends with Hannah (Olivia Colman), a religious charity shop worker whose kindly exterior hides a secret in her life.

To start off with what is good, the acting must certainly be discussed. 2011 has been a great year for Peter Mullan, and his stellar performance in Tyrannosaur has only made it all the more so. Joseph is a man who struggles to control his violent temperament, and Mullan portrays him as a man whose very movements must be watched. Any little tic or flinch could be the sign of him about to snap, and Mullan's sustenance of these attributes ensure that Joseph's character is forever surrounded with a sense of tension, even in his quieter moments. He is a volcano that goes from one to eleven with the slightest provocation, a contradictory figure who reacts violently, even when he is in the wrong. Olivia Colman is fantastic in this film. Although Mullan gives a great performance, arguably, in many ways Colman has the tougher job. Near unrecognisable from Hot Fuzz, she embodies her character. You buy this person as someone who could exist in the real world, and that this character did indeed exist in the real world. The way in which she (and Considine's script) reveal this character, gradually peeling back layers, is very subtle and intelligent. Whenever her secrets come to the forefront, the complexity and expertise of her performance is unveiled. Also very good, though in a lesser, more supporting capacity than the leads is Eddie Marsan, who plays a character not unlike Joseph, possessing complex hypocritical tendencies. Marsan does this to the same level of credibility as the leads. The technical achievements of this film too must be flagged up. Erik Wilson's cinematography portrays Leeds in an interesting, almost otherworldly manner: the visuals bring to mind a near post-apocalyptic dystopian universe of dog-eat-dog mentality, with force and brutality being the rule of thumb. Although it does look suitably desolate (for which the location scouts should be credited), Wilson's camera gives the film a beauty that is reminiscent of what I described as the "savage grace" that came to mind with Peter Mullan's own Neds. Also, the film has some terrific sound design/editing. Filled with mostly diegetic sounds, this decision does not give the audience an opportunity to sit back and relax with a degree of detachment: we are in there with these characters, both witness and participant in this bitter earth. However, there is a wonderful moment in the film in which the music that is playing diegetically swells over on the soundtrack and plays non-diegetically. It's a fine bit of work that gives both the characters and the audience a sense of release, before being thrust back into the savagery that dominates the film. Decisions like this must be credited to Considine. I've always liked Considine from the first time I saw him onscreen in Dead Man's Shoes. That is a film that could have been a nuts-and-bolts exploitation film, and in some ways it is, but Considine (and Meadows) really elevate it to a level of great significance and inject believability and social realism into an otherwise unfathomable plot (that's not an insult, I love Dead Man's Shoes!). Here, his sensibilities towards the subtle, realistic and true to life lend themselves to Tyrannosaur, which could also have been an exploitation flick, but is in fact a powerful piece of drama. Tonally, particularly at the beginning, in which Joseph in a fit of rage kills his beloved dog, we are at rock bottom with him: Considine throws us into the depths of hell and asks us 'is it possible to escape a dead-end situation?' This sort of question is the kind every filmmaker should be asking the audience, and Considine, both as screenwriter and more so as director, should be credited for this.

Tyrannosaur is most certainly a great film. Nevertheless, there are problems that deny it from being the masterwork that it could have been. Although he does it well, Considine scribes this film in a manner that is nuts-and-bolts. It is unfortunate, but I can’t say that I haven’t seen this kind of subject matter done better in Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth. As such, having seen it done before, I’d expect the film to not be as predictable as it ends up being. Regardless of the flair with which the film is made, you can see from where the film begins the direction the plot will take you a mile off. Truly great drama should have you caught up in the moment, and not thinking about (and correctly guessing) what will follow in the next scene. For a film so vérité, it is disappointing to see these particular elements of contrivance, which take away from the overall effect of the film.

Aside from the extreme predictabilities in Considine’s occasionally problematic script, Tyrannosaur is a great film. It boasts superb lead performances from Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman, with a strong supporting performance from Eddie Marsan. Also, in the technical department, there is some fine cinematography by Erik Wilson and excellent sound design that integrates the audience into its savage setting. Finally, this film establishes Paddy Considine not only as a great actor, but a talent to be reckoned with as a writer-director.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (feet up after a long day)

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