47th Chicago Film Festival: ‘Tyrannosaur’ a brutal triumph

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Written and directed by Paddy Considine

UK, 2011

As film watchers, it’s in our nature to look away. Most of us don’t venture to the theater to see real life, no matter how powerful the tale may be, and when even a smidgen of it crosses into our fantasy world, we want to turn our heads and ignore it.

But not with Tyrannosaur. It won’t be ignored.

Tyrannosaur tells the story of Joseph, an angry, drunken older man who lives his life like no man should. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with Hannah, a religious shopkeeper whose life has been getting progressively worse. As the film goes on, the two become bigger parts of each other’s lives, and find that they seemingly help balance one another out. But don’t expect cozy and warm, because that’s not even close to what we get.

Right out of the gate, Considine shows us that he’s a creative force to be reckoned with. The look is raw, the soundtrack is fitting, and the film itself is wonderfully subdued, until those moments where it’s given a reason not to be.  And when those moments come, it doesn’t play it safe. It doesn’t cut away, and it doesn’t try to make it easier by being artistic. Its beauty comes from its brutality. It is vaguely reminiscent of Irreversible, though not quite as lengthy and with a slightly dialed back intensity. These are horrific moments that help build our characters and make them stronger, and to shy away would not only take away from them, but take away from the film entirely.

The lead performances that come from both Peter Mullen and Olivia Colman are nothing short of the best of the festival. Mullen immerses himself so far into the role, and does such a compelling job making Joseph’s anger and emotion real, to see him without any sort of nomination come award season would be absolute blasphemy. He’s the definition of “underrated”, a man whose name deserves to hold weight in this mixed-up business. And Colman, mostly known for her comedic roles (notably Hot Fuzz, in which she co-starred with Considine), makes the absolute best with her change of pace. She brings so much tragedy to an already tragic character, and evokes so much with a simple look and a tear.

And thank God they worked, because these characters are the heart and soul. It’s a film about many things: taking control, second chances, etc. But without these two characters working off one another, any meaning applied would be useless. Joseph would never feel a tinge of goodness without Hannah in his life, and Hannah wouldn’t seek change of her own if she hadn’t met Joseph. They’re a balancing act, so to speak, with one helping the other with the other helping them right back. It’s a circle that keeps on keeping on, and could still be keeping on at this very moment in time.

There’s truly no way to make Tyrannosaur go down smooth. It’s not an easy one to fully appreciate until it’s done and over with, but there’s so much there and so many more layers to it based on character alone, that a second viewing would almost certainly be advised (provided you can stomach it).  It’s a complete mess in the best way possible; a brutal triumph.

– William Bitterman

The Chicago Film Festival runs from October 6th-20th. Visit the festival’s official home page.

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