Though best known for his appearances in the Red Riding trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum and his on-going collaboration with Shane Meadows (including A Room for Romeo Brass and Dead Man’s Shoes), Paddy Considine is also an award-winning film director.
Though best known for his appearances in the Red Riding trilogy, The
Bourne Ultimatum and his on-going collaboration with Shane Meadows (including A Room for Romeo Brass and Dead Man’s Shoes), Paddy
Considine is also an award-winning film director.
Back in 2007, Considine wrote and
directed the short film Dog Altogether,
which won a number of prizes including a BAFTA and a Silver Lion from the
Venice film festival. Tyrannosaur,
Considine’s debut as a writer and director of feature-length films, is a continuation
of Dog Altogether’s portrait of an angry man redeemed.
Joseph (Peter Mullan) is deeply unhappy and because he is unhappy he lashes
out at anyone and everything that crosses his path including teenagers, local
shopkeepers and the dog that he kicks to death in the film’s opening scene.
Widowed and alone, Joseph is trapped in a downward spiral of violence, misery
and self-recrimination until his fall is arrested by local charity worker
Hannah (Olivia Colman), whose
capacity for forgiveness seems to offer Joseph one last chance to prove his
humanity and forge a meaningful connection.
This basic dynamic established, Tyrannosaur
then pulls back the curtain on Hannah’s home life. Here we learn that Hannah’s forgiving nature has lead not to
peace and fulfilment but to a life made miserable by James (Eddie Marsan), a husband whose capacity
for violence and unpleasantness make Joseph seem downright charming.
As you might expect from a film
directed by someone best known for their acting, Tyrannosaur boasts some
astonishing performances. Mullan perfectly captures Joseph’s to-and-fro between
savagery and humanity while Peep Show’s Colman finds real strength in her
character’s fragile despair. However, while much of the film’s charm comes from
Considine’s admirable willingness to allow his actors the time and the space to
find their characters’ humanity amidst the bleakness of their broken lives, the
film is let down by a terrible lack of focus when it comes to deciding what
these characters are going to do.
The problem is that, once Considine
has introduced us to the story of an emotional incontinent befriended by an
obliging sponge, he suddenly becomes concerned about the lack of accountability
in this sort of dynamic. Realising that there is something fundamentally
dishonest and unfair about expecting Hannah to pay the psychic cost for
Joseph’s redemption, Considine introduces us to a secondary layer of characters
whose very unpleasantness sets them up as candidates for some redemptive act of
violence. However, this secondary dynamic established, Considine then changes
course again and decides to deny his characters redemption because no violent
act can ever be redemptive. While these reversals serve to both keep the
audience guessing and keep the film from falling into cliché, they also serve
to muddy the psychological waters to the point where character motivation
become completely impenetrable. The film tellingly ends with Joseph reading out
a letter in which he explains why he did what he did and why he thinks Hannah
did what she did; what is this letter if not an admission by the
writer/director that he can no longer make sense of his own characters?
Tyrannosaur features scenes of
horrific violence but it also ends with the film’s characters having achieved some
degree of redemption. Traditionally, dramas get away with hideously depressing
scenes of violence because they always make it clear that violence has a cost.
However, by refusing to commit his characters to any particular redemptive
storyline, Considine effectively winds up hand-waving the mechanism through
which his characters achieve their redemption. This means that, in effect,
nobody is ever held to account for the film’s hideous levels of violence and an
unaccountable drama is far worse than a drama that answers its questions in a
Tyrannosaur features some
fascinating characters, some beautiful performances, some sharp dialogue and a
real sense of place but the fundamental weakness of its script make it nothing
more than a huge and unpleasant disappointment.