Sundance Review: 'Tyrannosaur'
Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman shine in Paddy Considine's bleak feature
PARK CITY - Towards the end of Paddy Considine's "Tyrannosaur," the film's tormented main character looks to the woman who may offer him his only hope at redemption and he explains himself very simply.
"I'm not a nice human being," he declares.
This may go down as the biggest on-screen understatement of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It's like if a character in a Sofia Coppola movie opined "I'm rich and I'm bored." Or if a Steven Spielberg protagonist said, "I'm heroic and I have daddy issues."
Indeed, Pete Mullan's Joseph isn't a nice human being, but "Tyrannosaur" doesn't require him to be. All that the dark, frequently miserable film requires is that you be unable to take your eyes off of him. On that count, you can't deny the power of "Tyrannosaur," which features tremendous performances in all key roles, even if the overall film occasionally strays into that well-trod genre of British blue collar misery porn.
Full review of "Tyrannosaur" after the break...
Like the man says, Joseph isn't a nice human being. This is a point that writer-director Considine (best known for his acting in films like "In America" and "The Bourne Ultimatum") wants to make early and often. Within the first 10 minutes of the film, Joseph commits three acts of violence that are so heinous and barely-provoked that it's likely some viewers will check out on the character entirely. Certainly the thing Joseph does before the opening credits begin is something you've pretty much never seen a "hero" do in cinematic history.
What we come to understand, almost immediately, is that Joseph can't help himself. He's self-destructive and consumed by anger and I'm assuming that a psychologist watching the movie would diagnose some form of mental illness. But in this corner of Leeds, there's nobody around to suggest that Joseph get therapy or prescription drugs, so he self-medicates with alcohol and vents his spleen with violence and that's how he gets through the day. The movie doesn't pity Joseph and it sure as heck doesn't ask viewers to pity him. He's like a ticking time bomb and although you never root for him, you do find yourself hoping that his explosions will be directed against a few deserving parties.
And there are deserving parties aplenty. Joseph has a friendship with the child across the street, a boy whose mother is dating an uncouth boor whose pride and joy is a vicious, barely domesticated pit bull. Joseph is a vicious, barely domesticated pit bull, but at least we see he's capable of kindness to children.
Like I said, we don't pity Joseph, but shopkeeper Hannah (Olivia Colman) takes interest in him and if she doesn't pity him, she takes an interest in praying for him and trying to save him. Hannah, of course, has issues of her own and she may need saving from her weak-willed, possibly psychotic hubby (Eddie Marsan). Joseph and Hannah are both horribly damaged people and they form a misery support society that doesn't develop in a predictable fashion.
There's a hypothetical version of "Tyrannosaur" that unfolds as a Problem Drama about either mental illness or domestic abuse or both. Joseph and Hannah are troubled souls, but they find each other and they find something that resembles happiness? You can imagine the way that film would arc. But Considine is working from a darker vein. There's humor -- the origin of the movie's title, for example -- but it's humor that stems from Joseph's contention that he's not a nice human being. There are moments of relief and seeming happiness, but they also stem from sadness and loss. And every time the movie feels like it's heading in a direction that would "cure" its main characters, Considine pushes us into something that makes a happy resolution even less likely.
As he's proven in his collaborations with Ken Loach, Mullan is a force of nature and there are few actors I can imagine committing so totally to Joseph's internal war. Joseph is possessed and Mullan doesn't apologize for the character or beg sympathy. In a different movie, this character would be the abusive alcoholic father or the threatening headmaster, but Mullan doesn't change the portrayal at all to be the hero. It's audacious work and the credit has to be co-signed to Considine for letting Mullan go to this place.
While I knew Mullan was capable of this sort of performance, I was a good deal less familiar with Colman, which makes her emotionally open performance at least equally impressive. Joseph doesn't believe he's capable of happiness or that he deserves it, but Hannah is heartbreaking for her delusion that better things are accessible.
Marsan rounds out the main cast with a chilling turn that verges on demonic at times.
All of the smaller supporting roles are fully inhabited and Considine's sense of place is flawless. What he lacks is that next step of storytelling nuance that takes the affliction and discontent and channels it more fully into something like Loach's righteous anger or Mike Leigh's eclectic humanism. "Tyrannosaur" isn't far from that territory, but I wish it had left me with slightly more than gloom and brilliant performances.
Other Fien Print reviews from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival: