Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Film Review: "Tyrannosaur"

There's a really sad story that's been built around "Tyrannosaur", and it's one that's been largely brushed over by just about everyone. The fact that it's been out for a month means next to nothing, as it's gotten absolutely no traction domestically. Within a few seconds of the film, it was abundant why. "Tyrannosaur" is exactly the sort of film the trudges along to a small distributor, because at least then it's getting distribution. The problem is that Strand Releasing has absolutely no idea what to do with it. The film is resting in the same situation that "Margaret" has been quite for some time, and somehow critics haven't been doing much for it.

Not that you could blame them, for a film this moored in bleakness and anti-popular opinion. Of course you don't quite get that inclination from the trailers, which strike a rather more eloquent note to lure viewers in on. They smooth over the fact that Peter Mullan's Joseph kills his dog in the opening of the film. What's his reason behind it? General rage that he takes out on the poor beast. It's not long after that that we gravitate Joseph's story towards Hannah, played by Olivia Colman, a thrift shop worker dealing with an abusive husband of her own. And, of course, the two find a bond with each other through their troubles. Typical right?

I'd be hastening to agree with you, as that was the inclination I had heading into it. I forgot about it quick enough as I was led further into the film. It settles you in with its musical cues that, while not distracting or irritating, do set you offbeat somewhat. This is a film of inherent rawness, so frequent music will do enough to put you in a bit of an awkward rhythm. As far as my own complaints go, however, that's really just about it. I'd be happy to be displeased with that over poor direction, obvious acting, and gimmicky camera works. Luckily, those aren't out of order here.

Debut director Paddy Considine certainly abides by the main rules for an effective debut, the most important of which is to not waltz onto the scene unannounced. Make a big entrance, and one that people will remember you from in hindsight to what you do next. He doesn't cleanse things over kindly to make it more appealing for a mass audience. He leaves all the grit in there, and only occasionally does that focus find itself flinching. Some of the more humanizing elements towards Joseph's character, however a necessity they may be, also lighten the film somewhat. But again, this can't quite be that hard-as-nails, cut-anything-that-moves sort of show.

Peter Mullan struck me out of the blue last year when he showed for just a couple of minutes in "Deathly Hallows: Part 1". You know, those dark times for the site that was desperate to make its own style. Still, in spite of however strong the film surrounding him was, Mullan ground enough respect out of me to gain notice in my review of the film. Here, he earns those stripes with a surprisingly sympathetic turn mixed with the aggressive drawl he's been working across for years. He knows he's supposed to be leading the pack, so he dials it back as well he should, which does decrease the demand of his attention, but he earns it in the moments that count. He embodies the carnage the film necessitates as a means to the good.

But don't be fooled by the immediate focus on him. The film is quickly, and rather unexpectedly, consumed by Olivia Colman's performance as the bottomed out Hannah. No, she doesn't smash onto the scene quite the way that Mullan does. It's the relationship that builds between her and Joseph that gives her notice. The more drawn in unconscious reliance to her he becomes, the further we are let in to her life. Colman really sinks in during the film's latter half, plumbing beyond the surface to those dormant layers of aggression that Joseph's interactions find a certain way to give rise to. The results are shutter inducing, even if they aren't so unexpected.

It's left ambiguous as to whether or not these developments would have happened had Joseph never entered the equation. But the film really doesn't bother with those sorts of questions. It's not a matter of "what if this didn't happen?", so much as it is to deal with "what if we did something?" Violence and cruelty are the main themes of "Tyrannosaur", and neither is something that any one person is capable of avoiding. Sometimes, it is just a force of nature that holds things in check. The film does raise these questions through the dialogue of the script, not leaving things unanswered for the audience to figure out. But it would've taken too much away from the actors to put that kind of focus into it. What could be perceived as a weakness on the part of Paddy Considine is instead just a respect for the actors he's had the pleasure of working with.

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