March 21, 2012

Tyrannosaur (2011)

Ever since his work in Jim Sheridan's "In America" back in 2003, British actor Paddy Considine won international recognition as a rising talent in cinema of the United Kingdom. This reputation was cemented the following year in Shane Meadows' "Dead Man's Shoes", in which Considine showcased his talent to play complex and dark characters. However, Considine was interested in things beyond acting, and two years later, he wrote and produced his debut as a film director: the short film "Dog Altogether". The story of a violent man on the verge of selfdestruction, loosely based on Considine's father, "Dog Altogether" would end up winning multiple awards upon its 2007 release. Four years later, Considine returned to his characters of "Dog Altogether", expanding the story in order to finish a personal portrait of his parents. The result is "Tyrannosaur", a powerful tale of violence, hopelessness and despair deeply rooted in the British tradition of social realism. However, Considine's film also has a lot of heart.

In "Tyrannosaur", Peter Mullan is Joseph, an unemployed widower whose life has been spiraling to despair. Alcoholic and with gambling problems, Joseph kills his dog in a fit of rage, an event that triggers in him an emotional breakdown in which he discovers just how low he has fallen. In his depression, he enters a charity shop, where its shocked owner, Hannah (Olivia Colman), takes pity on him and comforts him with a prayer. A deeply Christian woman, Hannah tries to help and advice Joseph, but the violent man is initially aggressive towards her selfless kindness, disliking what he feels is the ignorance of the upper class. Against all odds, soon they become close friends despite their difficult first meeting. However, Hannah has a dark secret behind her apparently perfect life, as she is mentally and physically abused by her husband James (Eddie Marsan). And as Hannah gets closer to Joseph, he begins to remember his own violent past, his deceased wife and their troubled marriage.

Written by Paddy Considine, "Tyrannosaur" is at first look powerful drama about two troubled souls and the effect both have on each other. It is also a study on anger and violence, particularly domestic violence, which is explored in "Tyrannosaur" with crude brutality. Not only in the obvious case of Hannah, but also in Joseph as a former abuser. Joseph's search for redemption makes the backbone of the film, as he tries to find his way in the hopeless world in which he lives. The Tyrannosaur of the title, while a very specific analogy within the storyline, could also represent Joseph as a savage predator whose existence has been so far defined by violence. However, if Joseph is the backbone, Hannah is the film's heart, as her struggle is a more intimate and quiet one. Through the film, she'll endure a difficult transformation, which writer Considine develops with care and a deep honesty, keeping the naturalist tone without falling in cheap melodrama. The characters are very well defined, and transcend the usual stereotype to become real human beings.

As a director, Paddy Considine showcases a great skill at transmitting the inherent violence of the story through images. Not graphically, but suggestively, the violence is not exactly shown in acts, but in consequences. Considine focuses on the devastation that violence leaves in the lives of everyone. Joseph, Hannah, the little kid across the street and Joseph's late wife, with pure visual language, Considine shows that hope is scarce and violence is everywhere. Not the violence of a war or crime, but one that's closer, intimate, and yet as powerful and destructive. Erik Wilson's work of cinematography captures this gray world with a naturalist touch and desaturated color that's so common in British social realism, however, he avoids the use of shaky cam, having his camera to flow smoothly through this world, with a calm that contrasts sharply with the violence of the film. Where Paddy Considine's talent shines is in his directing of actors, as he brings powerful performances from his cast, which elevates the film from typical melodrama to high class filmmaking.

Because "Tyrannosaur" is a film of actors, as their work is without a doubt the best thing about the film. As Joseph, Peter Mullen reprises the role he had in Considine's first short film. As written above, the characters of "Tyrannosaur" could easily had been stereotypes, but thanks to Considine's writing they go beyond. Mullen takes advantage of this and builds up the complex personality of Joseph, a man consumed by rage and guilt. As he gets older and sees his friends dying, something changes in the violent man, and Mullen gives great power to this transformation. Nevertheless, the real discovery of the film is Olivia Colman's performance as Hannah, the Christian woman at the charity shop. Better known in England as a comedy actress, her performance as an abused woman is simply stunning in every detail. With only subtle gestures, Colman begins to build up a character that unveils herself as the story unfolds, showing a multilayered personality that never feels artificial and on the contrary, is hauntingly believable.

Certainly, "Tyrannosaur" is a film that, given its storyline, could had easily been a cheap melodrama about domestic violence and the differences between British social classes. However, director Paddy Considine imbues the film with a brutal honesty that transform the story into a scream of despair. Many films (specially British social dramas) have presented bleak story lines about working class life, however, Considine succeeds in making a very human work amidst the hopelessness that his story has. As written above, it's not really a graphically violent film, but it's still a difficult film to watch, as Considine makes the violence to be actually felt through the characters. The relationship that Considine establishes with his characters is another differences between "Tyrannosaur" and other similar films, as Considine enters their world as a witness to their lives, but with a great respect for their humanity. There's of course a certain taste for shock, but it's not one that comes for free. Considine doesn't shock gratuitously, he does it because that's life.

With a masterful display of talent by Mullen and Colman, "Tyrannosaur" is a shocking social drama about two heavily damaged souls that find some solace in each other. In the hands of many directors, this could had become a tearjerker, but Considine gives the film a very personal touch that makes the film a powerful experience. While it's certainly a film filled with violence, there's a certain human element in "Tyrannosaur" that gives it a different tone, a tone that's more intimate that what any graphic display of violence could had achieved. Considine tries to understand his characters, and by doing so, he makes them real. There's not a condescending towards them, but one of comprehension; not one of judgment, but one of love.


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