Why You Should See “Tyrannosaur”, Why It Should Win Oscars
November 27, 2011 in Cinema
There is a strain of British cinema that's the polar opposite of the usual Oscar-bait costume drama you normally see trailed everywhere. Some call it "miserablist", and it usually involves a portrayal of often alcohol-fuelled violence, the "working class", multiple cups of tea, then some more violence. Then some more tea. Calling it "miserablist" is painting a whole host of independent cinema in broad strokes, much in the same way I just did with the eponymous "costume drama", but everyone needs a sound-bite length description of everything these days, much in the same way we need a "like" button to show agreement or pleasure. The phrase "miserablist cinema" doesn't carry much weight with me – it's too short-hand, too glib and does a disservice to the actual content. I prefer "realist". And it doesn't get more real than Tyrannosaur.
I must admit – I'd watch the actor (and director) Peter Mullan read a telephone book. It's got nothing to do with him being also Scottish and awesome – it's to do with him portraying characters that I wholeheartedly recognise every day. There's a core of reality to everything he's done in film that I find both mesmerising and repellent in the same heartbeat. Repellent because a lot of the characters he portrays are all too real to me, and they're the sort I don't make eye contact with in the street – or back in the days when I drank – in the pub or club. And mesmerising because of this. He stars in Tyrannosaur as Joseph – a broken man who spends his state pension – and days – in the pub or in a betting shop, shuttling between both, seething with rage at life. One particularly bad day, after smashing a window and having a small fight in a bar, he winds up in a charity shop ran by Hannah (Olivia Colman). Huddled behind a rack of second-hand coats, he finds some solace at last while Hannah – a Christian – prays for him.
The rage flowing through Joseph is matched by the fear exuded by Hannah. Although on the surface she appears to be pious and charitable, she lives in mortal terror of her seemingly ideal husband (played by Eddie Marsden). Hannah gets through the day – and evening – by drinking, and we soon realise why. Her husband is a middle-class monster.
The triangle that follows doesn't have equal sides. No punches are pulled in depicting anyone in Tyrannosaur. Joseph and Hannah find an ease with each other after some awkward beginnings, and a bonding of sorts becomes evident to the audience (and Hannah's husband). I will not for the life of me tell you what happens next, nor to whom, but let me say that nothing is predictable here. What I will say is this:
Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman deserve to win a Best Actor/Actress Oscar each. Even though I'm fully aware of Mullen's previous work, he still surprises me with the depths of emotion he can portray on screen. But I have to couple this rather ebullient praise with the performance of Colman (whom I only know from the television show "Peep Show"). It's a long, long time since I've seen a performance from an actress as powerful and as nuanced as this. Both of the leads are simply spell-blinding, heart-breaking and terrifying. In addition to this, a whole host of other characters are equally fleshed-out and real, with kudos due to Marsden especially for such a thankless, harrowing role.
With cinema rooted in reality there comes a cost. The violence within Tyrannosaur will turn your stomach – especially if you are a dog-owner. The pay-off are moments in kitchens and pubs, with two lost and lonely people baring their souls with the awkwardness that comes with the fear of opening up to a stranger. It sometimes feels as if you're spying on them, their obvious pain and dulled hope. You may be surprised to learn that this is the debut feature of Paddy Considine, whom you've possibly seen in Hot Fuzz or The Bourne Ultimatum. It's written and directed by him with such easy aplomb – and with the ability to coax remarkable performances from his leads – that you'd be forgiven for thinking he was a seasoned auteur. The script is bare and lean, and his direction is the epitomy of naturalism. It's a stunning debut feature, and I can't wait to see what he produces next.
And so we come to the Oscars. I don't normally fly off the handle about acting performances, but if there's any justice in the world it should be a double-hander for Mullen and Colman in the Best Actor/Actress stakes. I'd throw in one for Considine too, but he's facing serious competition this year from War Horse and Hugo, never mind Drive or various others. This is mainly why I'm concentrating on Mullen and Colman. You'll never see greater performances this year from anyone. Anyone. They are both truly and equally astonishing. Of course I'm worried when the AMPAS folks get their screeners they start to complain that the movie doesn't contain any actual dinosaurs or something equally as inane. I just hope they start playing it because if they do, they won't switch it off.
Nor will you.