Staff Recommendation/ Tyrannosaur

Cornerhouse AV Technician Dave Petty reviews Tyrannosaur

Sentimentality in films is often a difficult thing to get right. Go too far and you’re accused of over-egging the pudding, laying it on thick, tugging at the heartstrings that are easiest to grab hold of. Hold it back, and you lose the human touch. It’s a tightrope walk that Tyrannosaur deftly treads, and with such a huge weight of emotional baggage tied around its growling midriff, it’s an amazing, almost jaw-dropping achievement that its step never falters.

The directorial debut of Paddy Considine (Dead Man’s Shoes), Tyrannosaur spares no time in getting its hands dirty – the bile and vitriol spewing from Joseph (Peter Mullan) is laid bare on screen within the first few frames, his violent exit from a betting shop one of the darkest opening scenes in recent memory. Shane Meadows-lite this is not. Joseph is an alcoholic lost soul, a man so bitterly withdrawn from society that you wonder how the film can possibly progress from the rage and fury of its first few minutes (for those of you who’ve seen Considine’s BAFTA-winning short Dog Altogether, it’s worth pointing out that it’s loosely remade here as Tyrannosaur’s jumping off point). But when Joseph enters into the life of Christian charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Colman), things take a different turn – and not entirely for the better. Hannah’s own world is already frayed at the edges with a failing marriage to James (a frightening Eddie Marsan), and it’s not before long that events threaten to spiral out of control for all involved.

Considine himself said at the recent Cornerhouse and BAFTA Q&A that he didn’t want to make another “little British film to apologise to the rest of the world with”, that he wanted to make cinema. And much as Tyrannosaur treads arguably familiar ground, it feels fresh and new (and indeed cinematic) in a way that its contemporaries don’t. Compare it to, say, Harry Brown, and the differences become clear – this isn’t a film attempting to ape Hollywood; it’s carving its own identity, not once spilling over into cliché-ridden territory which it so very easily could have done. Unpalatable moments are often overlaid with the sweetest of soundtracks – it should be incongruous, but somehow it fits. Vengeful acts of unspeakable cruelty that would seem unjustifiable in lesser films seem somehow ‘right’ or ‘okay’, such is the clarity and focus of the screenplay.

Many directors can make debut films that drip with style, their craft often honed in advertising or pop promos, but few achieve the sheer emotional wallop that Tyrannosaur packs – and with plenty of style to boot. The three leads put in incredible performances, but Colman in particular is revelatory – a far cry from her character Sophie in Channel 4’s Peep Show. And far from being a 100% leaden weight of grim northern melancholia, the film tempers proceedings with moments of tenderness and warmth that arrive in the most unexpected of ways – a brief kiss and hug shared between two of the leads overflows with emotion and subtext, a wake in Joseph’s local offering the viewer glimmers of hope amidst the despair. But this is by no means a film that attempts to offer up any happy endings, nor does it wallow in a self-pitying mire.

It’s simple but complex, a film full of contradictions that leaves you worn out yet exhilarated. No matter what your preconceptions, I urge you to see it.