There is an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Now in this new millennium it is about time that bromide gets updated; you can’t judge a DVD by its cover art. A prime example is the film under review here, ‘Tyrannosaur’. The cove depicts the skeleton of a T-Rex show buried deep underground with the lone figure of a man standing between two wintry trees. I you had to guess what this movie was about a reasonable assumption might be something concerning an archeologist or perhaps a science fiction along the line of Jurassic park. In either case not only would you have been incorrect with both guesses but you probably would have missed out on an incredibly well crafted and emotionally intense independent drama. The fundamental theme of this film is one of my favorites, especially with Indy cinema. It follows the lives of two unlikely friends; each dysfunctional in their own fashion. Somehow their relationship has a synergistic effect making each of the two damaged people stronger than on their own. One of the first movies I’ve seen with this thematic slant was Hal Hartley 1990 masterpiece, ‘Trust’. Like that film, a long time personal favorite, the actual story line the plot, takes second place to the real power of this movie, the character development. Regrettably a film like this, a brilliant as it is, would not make it past the executives in charge of approving production. It is a relationship movie devoid of shirtless lycanthropes of glistening vampires competing for the attention of as angst ridden teenage girl. This film considers the dynamics of an adult relationship between two frail and flawed human beings. Without the infusion of splashy computerized special effects or big A-List stars the major studios typically steer clear of movies such as this. They tell an intimate story that the audience can readily identify with, quiet with an emphasis stylistically telling a story. ‘Tyrannosaur’ doesn’t strive to relate some profound allegorical message. It sets out to give the audience an opportunity to see life through another set of eyes, ones with a set of experiences different from ours but readily understandable on as fundamental emotional level.
Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a man with a penchant for violence. It is inexorably driving him down a self destructive path. He is forced into a point of self reevaluation when in an uncontrollable fit of anger he kills a dog. This brings him to realize that his current way of living is not socially acceptable and will ultimately be the death of him. He attempts to alter these fundamental and dangerous character flaws. Joseph sees an opportunity when he crosses paths with Hannah (Olivia Colman), a devote Christian. She works in a local Christian good will store but as we soon discover is harboring her own dark secret; her husband is physically abusive. Hannah is sympathetic towards Joseph which blossoms into a deep relationship. This is just the support system that is required for Joseph to pull himself out of his violent abyss. The friendship exerts a completely different influence on Joseph’s outlook when he discovers the truth about Hannah’s home life with her husband, James (Eddie Marsan). In a vain attempt to cope with her untenable situation Hannah has developed a drinking problem trying to drown her problems. This of course, results in an internal struggle within Hannah as she tries to reconcile her predicament with the faith she holds so dear. Joseph is also plunged into a psychological dichotomy as the urge to return to his animalistic ways surface initially to protect his friend. The central issue is developed over a misunderstanding. James misinterprets the bond his wife has formed with Joseph sparking his own violent fit of jealousy.
The film is admittedly on the gloomy side so don’t expect a Hollywood mainstream happy ending. This is just another reason why there is such an intense need for independent film, they tell the stories that the mainstream studios won’t go near something that has greater potential artistically than at the box office. The performances given here by Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman are nothing short than incredible. They infuse their characters with such realism and depth that you can easily forget you are watching a work of fiction and get a voyeuristic feel of knowing the people being portrayed. The intimacy engender by these outstanding actors is on a visceral level. The grim realism is sparked in such a way that you cannot help to care about these two damaged people trapped by their circumstances and intrinsic personality shortcomings. Both of these actors have been journeymen in their craft but a film like this demonstrates they can easily carry the lead in an extremely intense emotion production.
The director/writer Paddy Considine is remarkable especially considering this is first time directing a feature length movie a he has one previous co-author credit of a screenplay. As mentioned the story is told much more through the emotional commitment of the primary cast than the dialogue. This is not to say the screenplay for this film is in any way superfluous, it most certainly is vital to the film’s success. Here the script provides the rudder for the story as it moves along. The actors provide the impulse while the director truly is at the helm. He demonstrates an attention to the details that surrounds the audience. In many ways this film is the equivalent to an emotional tone poem; more concerned with eliciting a response by allowing the story to gradually unfold as the viewer establishes a deeper understanding of the people they are watching. This film is an example of how a well constructed independent film is able to once again infuse humanity into the art of cinema.