J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Considine’s Tyrannosaur

If you think Leeds looks like a depressed town, just wait until you get a look at the characters’ private lives. Take for instance Joseph, a bitterly self-destructive widower. He will be the protagonist of actor Paddy Considine’s harrowing feature directorial debut, Tyrannosaur (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

If the goons from Trainspotting ever reached a certain age, they might look like Joseph, the aging hooligan. Dissipated and ornery, he accidentally kicks his dog to death in the opening scene. Profoundly remorseful, his roiling emotions launch him on a violent bender. Running from the brawls he started, Joseph finds unlikely sanctuary in the charity thrift shop run by Hannah, an Evangelical Christian of enormous patience.

For some reason, Joseph is drawn to return to Hannah’s store, almost out of a perverse need to repay her kindness with cruelty. Yet, as he begins to understand the miseries of her life, a difficult to quantify relationship begins to develop between. Despite her loving nature, Hannah is badly abused by her husband in ways that are not merely violent, but truly degrading. Meanwhile, Joseph also ruefully notes how the little boy living across the street is terrorized by his mother’s boyfriend. However, if you expect Joseph to organize the downtrodden underdogs of Leeds in an Oprah-style scheme of self-empowerment, you had better stay the heck away from Tyrannosaur.

Peter Mullan’s work as Joseph is absolutely staggering. It is hard to watch him, but impossible to turn away. He truly puts on an acting clinic in Tyrannosaur, schooling his better known peers rather savagely. Yet, his supporting cast hangs right with him, particularly including Olivia Colman, who is absolutely devastating as Hannah. They are both equally deserving of Oscar recognition as lead actors, but they have no chance, because Tyrannosaur (which takes its titles from one of Joseph’s uncomfortably revealing anecdotes) is one of the most depressing, spirit bludgeoning films you can probably ever hope to see.

As distressing as the death of Joseph’s dog might be (frankly, viewers should not get too attached to any animals or ailing people in Tyrannosaur), it is what happens to Colman’s character that really haunts you. Considine’s script (a fixer-upper from his short film Dog Altogether) toys with notions of redemption and forgiveness, but ultimately exploits Christianity as a straw man of false comfort. Yet, despite all the unrestrained inhumanity it depicts, Tyrannosaur is a deeply moral film. What happens is clearly wrong and that it continues is meant to be disturbing.

Viscerally powerful, Tyrannosaur is tough to shake. It is an excellent film, recommended for discriminating audiences, but probably not for the clinically depressed. It opens this Friday (11/18) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.

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