Friday, November 18, 2011


Beating A Dead Dinosaur To Life

Peter Mullan as Joseph in Paddy Considine's British working class drama "Tyrannosaur". 
Zeitgeist Films

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
ay, November 18, 2011

In the universe of sledgehammers, "Tyrannosaur", a drama written and directed by the actor Paddy Considine, may be the biggest one-note tool of them all.  Set in Leeds, England, an alcoholic Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a boil of incoherent rage and violence both eruptive and unpredictable.  Joseph tears into anything that moves or blinks wrong, including his beloved dog.  We don't know where his explosive anger and violent behavior comes from -- aside from the drink -- but we feel it early on.

Hannah (Olivia Colman) is a Christian charity worker and sole operator of a clothing store.  She prays for the wayward and misguided.  Hannah is Joseph's guardian angel of sorts -- and a victim of the most brutal and abhorrent abuse from her cowardly and suspicious husband (Eddie Marsan).  Hannah and Joseph form a tenuous bond, finding in each other a commonality of broken souls trying to rise from the ashes of destruction.  Joseph warns Hannah about his volatility.  Hannah insists she feels safe with him.  It is an exchange that will look comical in retrospect after the credits role.

The problem with "Tyrannosaur" is that it is devoid of any shading or depth.  The audience doesn't have to work to know what's happening or where this entirely predictable film is heading.  Shots and motifs within scenes are telegraphed for emphasis in case you missed them and blinked during this unblinking film.  Any fine acting (particularly from Ms. Colman) is lost in the director's desire to hammer a nail into a wall long after it is embedded there.  I was unsure if Ms. Colman's great work informed the film or if Mr. Considine's direction and underwritten script evolved from the character she played.  I felt little connection to anyone in the film, except Hannah.

Hannah appears to be a hybrid of aggressor (Joseph) and victim (herself), and Ms. Colman infuses a bright awareness and grace into Hannah, while punctuating her with brittleness and aching vulnerability, as well as a deeper, darker disposition that abuse has worn her down to the bone with.  It's acting worth watching, but because of the monotone approach the director takes Ms. Colman's impressive work is less significant than it should be.

Ms. Colman's Hannah is virtually overshadowed by the over-direction and stubbornness of "Tyrannosaur", which like "Straw Dogs" or harsher films like Tim Roth's "The War Zone" or Bruno Dumont's "Twentynine Palms" is aimed partially at tapping into a prehistoric, guttural rage and the idea of man as dangerous, barbaric unfinished product.  Lurking beneath the surface of this rough film is a peculiar Adam and Eve push and pull -- the politeness and gentility of Hannah and the brutality of most everyone else.  The film tries to capture an evolution of the species but it stagnates, and painfully, with one episode after another designed exclusively to shock or numb. 

In achieving feeling during powerful moments Mr. Considine gets maximum yet limited effect from a film that bludgeons its audience into submission.  Everything is shown to us and amplified tenfold -- the abuse, the tension and the overtures of anger from multiple characters.  Even among characters there's no modulation or diversity of personality.  Everyone is either drunk, angry, battered, weary or miserable -- or all of these at once.  If one consecutively played "Tyrannosaur" and "White Irish Drinkers", an earlier film from this year, one may conclude that they are watching one three-hour movie but at least the latter film had a semblance of assorted characters and a sense of life. 

Mr. Considine, great as an actor in films like Jim Sheridan's "In America" as a debut feature film director seems to be experimenting with a new toy, only he's unable to turn it off or find its off switch.  Mr. Mullan, himself a director, is gruff and menacing as Joseph, but the performance feels as forced as the film.  The English countryside is rarely glimpsed -- only the internal cauldron of a working-class neighborhood replete with male bullies, abusers or drunkards.  In West Yorkshire to be a woman is to either shout at her children to stay off the road or at their husbands to stop beating them. 

"Tyrannosaur", a grand saber rattler, finds no range nor gray areas for its characters or the audience to exhale in, and this drab spectacle doesn't give the actors or the viewers the kind of results they richly deserve.

(A word to the wise for potential viewers of Mr. Considine's film: dog lovers, please proceed with utmost caution.)

With: Ned Dennehy, Sally Carman, Samuel Bottomley, Paul Popplewell, Sian Breckin, Lee Rufford, Paul Conway, Robin Butler.

"Tyrannosaur" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.  It features intense volcanic rages, violence, animal cruelty and beating, blood, pervasive violent language, a scene of rape and abhorrent behavior.  The film's running time is one hour and 32 minutes.

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