Sundance 2011: TYRANNOSAUR Review

     January 22, 2011

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If you’re going to make a grim and brutal film, please make sure the grimness and brutality have a point.  Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur is nothing more than a collection of cheap dramatic shots combined with the hope that the visible pain of two characters will be enough to carry a belabored narrative that suffers from pacing and predictability.  While lead actors Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman deliver strong performances, they’re stuck playing flat characters that are defined by their suffering and almost nothing else.  Tyrannosaur wants to shock you into believing it has a powerful tale to tell, but at the end you’re not electrified as much as you’re annoyed.

Within the first three minutes of the film, Joseph (Mullan) flies into a rage, kicks his dog, and accidentally kills it.  But then he feels really bad about it so you know he’s not a complete monster.  But then the next day he’s a dick to a couple of bank tellers and when they tell him not to come back, he smashes their window with a rock.  Rage controls Joseph’s life and he’s simply moving between fights.  After an altercation at a bar, Joseph flees into a Christian charity shop run by Hannah (Colman).  While it at first looks like Hannah might be the one to save Joseph from himself, we’re soon treated to a scene of Hannah pretending to sleep on her couch when her drunk husband (Eddie Marsan) comes home and pisses on her.  This is the world of Tyrannosaur, where stunning displays of abuse fill in for actual story or character development.

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The film then drags across its first hour as Joseph and Hannah slowly begin to trust each other and Hannah’s husband keeps beating the shit out of her.  Considine clearly wants to play with the idea that Joseph is a loaded gun waiting to go off and that his rage would be better directed at Hannah’s abusive husband or his neighbor’s abusive boyfriend.  Unfortunately, the writer-director never gives himself enough time to adequately explore Joseph’s rage because Considine’s too busy making sure that the next close-up lasts as long as possible.  He doesn’t understand that just because a long-take close-up can convey meaning, it doesn’t carry meaning if half the shots are set that way.  What’s worse, the film is drags its feet to where we know it will go: the uniting of Joseph and Hannah.  As much as Tyrannosaur is willing to shock with its brutality, it’s painfully predictable when it comes to the actual plot points.

Mullan and Colman both do what they can with their characters, but the material isn’t worthy of their acting talent.  Joseph and Hannah are two-dimensional descriptions designed for extracting as much of the audience’s pity as possible before we see them do something awful or have something awful happen to them.  Colman is particularly betrayed by the material because rather than existing as an actual person, she is simply Battered Housewife.  Considine never really explores her Christianity in a meaningful, thoughtful way.  He’s more eager to show her battered face.  It’s heartbreaking to see Hannah plead with her husband not to beat her, but Considine seems to relish the ugliness of the beating.  I wanted Hannah to free herself not only from her husband but from this movie.

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Tyrannosaur doesn’t understand that brutality and grimness have inherent weight due to their tonality, but that their inclusion doesn’t automatically add dramatic weigh to a story.  Even after Joseph and Hannah finally come together, the tone somehow becomes even more overcooked as violence takes hold in both character’s lives and we’re left not pitying these characters but unable to care about them at all.

Rating: D-

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my Sundance reviews so far:

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