CIFF 2011: Tyrannosaur

SPOILER ALERT

So some of you came out of the woodwork and yelled at me for spoiling The Ides of March in my review. My attitude toward spoilers is this: 1) no, I don’t care about them, 2) most of my reviews post after the movie comes out—you have 72 hours to see a movie unspoiled and then come Monday, we’re talking about it, and 3) my goal with these reviews is to help you decide how to spend your money at the movies. Entertainment is expensive—it costs a lot to go to movies, to maintain premium cable packages, VOD and streaming/rental services. I’m trying to provide enough information to help you spend your money wisely. Of course I’m going to tell you if a movie is good or bad, but mainly I want to write reviews and previews that help you not waste your money. If I get a little spoilery, it’s in the interest of letting you know what to expect when you go to the movies. Also, I read a couple advanced reviews of Ides that referenced the suicide so I didn’t realize it was going to be a big deal.

Now, in the interest of letting you know what you’re dealing with in the UK drama Tyrannosaur, I am going to get a little spoilery. If you don’t want to know anything about this movie and go into it blind, stop reading now.

Tyrannosaur is the feature film debut of English actor Paddy Considine. It is a crazily self-assured, remarkably deep and well-made first film. Martha Marcy May Marlene is also from a first-time writer/director, Sean Durkin, but Durkin has the benefit of having produced three films before he made Martha. Considine, in contrast, has only ever been an actor before dipping into the writing/directing pool with his short film Dog Altogether back in 2007. I really loved Martha and Durkin deserves big ups for it, but I was astounded by what Considine achieved in Tyrannosaur.

Fair warning: this movie is hugely difficult to sit through. It has a lot in common with Drive in that it’s spectacularly violent and is leavened by a love story, but I wouldn’t describe Drive as “miserable” and Tyrannosaur is unrelentingly miserable. Everyone in it is miserable, their lives are miserable, miserable things happen to them and then the cycle starts over. Over the course of the movie two dogs are killed, a woman is raped, a man is stabbed, a kid is mauled and several people are beat up. I wouldn’t make anyone see this movie. If you don’t want to see it, fair enough, but…

BUT.

If you think you can do it, what you’ll get back is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at the movies in a long time. When the payoff finally comes, it comes in such a way that everything else feels worth it. There is a deep well of compassion at the heart of this film that Considine taps into at unexpected moments. The story revolves around Joseph (Peter Mullan, Red Riding), a crusty old bastard who drinks too much and gets too angry. The movie opens with him kicking his dog to death. It’s some dark shit. Mullan, though, is SPECTACULAR. His smoke-seared voice and weathered face communicate a lifetime of hard living and poor choices. For me, this is the best leading actor performance I’ve seen so far this year. Mullan infuses Joseph with so much unexpended rage that you fear he could stroke out at any moment. Yet there’s a palpable exhaustion, a soul-deep weariness that catches Joseph at moments and keeps him from going overboard (some of the time). He’s fought hard for what little semblance of peace he has. I can’t stress enough how terrific Mullan is, and I will be an anger-ball if/when he’s ignored come award season.

The two other central performances are just as good. Olivia Colman (Hot Fuzz) is heartbreaking as Hannah, a housewife who attempts to befriend Joseph. At first Hannah seems really together—she’s a Jesus freak who runs a charity shop and lives in an upscale neighborhood. Over the course of the film, though, as Joseph gets more involved with her we find that her life is not at all what it seems. Which leads us to Eddie Marsan (RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes), who is terrifying as Hannah’s husband. His role is smaller but he’s so fucking scary when he is on screen that he were in it any more the audience would wet themselves. Marsan is a great character actor and Considine taps into a dark, twisted place with him. He’s one of those guys that the minute he shows up on screen you know something bad is going to happen. You don’t need a musical cue or special lighting. The look in his eyes is enough to signal trouble.

Throughout Tyrannosaur things go from bad to worse to worser still to LORD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN US. Yet there are moments of levity. Hannah and Joseph attend the funeral of Joseph’s best friend and the wake turns into an impromptu dance. The explanation of the title “Tyrannosaur” isn’t funny but it was lighter than I expected. When Joseph reflects on his behavior toward his late wife and says, “I was being a cunt,” it’s such a frank moment self-examination that you can’t help but laugh at his tone. And for such a bleak, disturbing movie, Tyrannosaur ends on an unexpectedly heartfelt, hopeful note. We hear Joseph reading a letter to Hannah in voice over that explains why he first entered her shop and the final shot of the film is the two of them, sitting across from one another, reconnecting despite less-than-ideal circumstances. The only time we see Hannah’s face free of worry and fear is in that moment when she smiles at Joseph.

This is a tremendous debut from Considine, who very well ought to go on to have a great career as a writer and director. And it’s a pair of career-defining performances for Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman. Tyrannosaur is not for everyone. But if you can handle it, its rewards are worth the suffering.

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4 thoughts on “CIFF 2011: Tyrannosaur

  1. I can’t wait to see this, Considine is a fantastic actor and it sounds like he’s done really well for his debut. I’ve read a lot of people complaining that the movie is “too depressing” but I don’t see anything wrong with a depressing film.

  2. michael

    Thank you, I was going to avoid this film because it looked like a lot of misery for no reason. I hope you will do a full post on this “spoilers” bullshit. I think it all started with The Crying Game, the marketing of that film with ‘Don’t tell the ending’ has now destroyed our ability to review and discuss a film in any meaningful way. I told a friend the whole story of Wendy and Lucy knowing that she would still cry at the end. Knowledge of something does not ruin the experience.

  3. Dani

    “Throughout Tyrannosaur things go from bad to worse to worser still to LORD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN US.”
    Yes, that is exactly how I felt about it when I saw it at the Nantucket Film Festival. I know I’ve already mentioned this to you Sarah, but for others reading…half the audience there left in the first five minutes. No one clapped at the end (every other screening I attended was followed by applause.) I don’t see anything wrong with a depressing film, and if you don’t either than you can probably make it through Tyrannosaur. If you have dogs that are like children to you it may feel like the director is RIPPING YOUR HEART OUT and stomping on it as soon as the film begins. Go ahead and cry like a baby, I know I did. But keep the sobs quiet unless you wait for the DVD.

    I agree with Sarah, this film can be a rewarding experience. The actors, writing, directing…everything is spectacularly well done. But it is not for everyone.

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