Blu-ray Review: TYRANNOSAUR

The opening sequence in Paddy Considine's brilliant Tyrannosaur is a model of cinematic efficiency so concise they ought to teach it in film school. Revisiting the events of Considine's original short Dog Altogether and turning them into a full-blown feature, Joseph (Peter Mullan, War Horse, the Red Riding films) is an angry, angry man, suffused with so much rage he can barely contain it. Drunk, he stumbles out of a betting shop after a loss, furious his money's gone.

Dragging on his dog's leash, he's ready to head for home and then anger at how unfair life is seizes him by the throat and he lashes out, kicking the animal in the ribs. Realising he's fatally injured the poor thing, Joseph is overcome with remorse - not a junkie's crocodile tears but bleak, silent melancholy. Carrying the dog back to his empty council house he waits with it as it dies, and buries it in the back garden.

So we've learnt Joseph's a dangerous man, ready to hurt even those few people still prepared to get close to him. Life's clearly treated him fairly harshly, and he's evidently having severe difficulty dealing with that. Yet it looks like there's a scrap of human decency left in him, at least, enough he knows how low he's sunk even if he can't quite process it. Tyrannosaur is the story of how Joseph gets a chance at redemption, of a sort, once he forms the first new friendship he's had in years.

Hannah is the quiet, devoutly Christian owner of a charity shop in the same run down area of town (Olivia Colman, from UK TV's Peep Show and the English Arrietty dub). At first Joseph treats her with derision, taking her faith as naivete and her privilege as an insult, but it turns out in some respects Hannah has it far worse than him, married to a monstrous husband who subjects her to appalling emotional and physical abuse (Eddie Marsan, Heartless, The Disappearance of Alice Creed).

The question becomes, when Joseph realises the full extent of Hannah's suffering, is he going to be able to reconcile trying to turn his life around with his usual tendency to lash out at anything about the world he can't handle? On paper this sounds like the kind of thing that could have gone horribly wrong, saccharine or didactic or miserablist, but Tyrannosaur is none of those things. Considine plainly isn't after writing a homily, or being bleak for the sake of it.

Tyrannosaur is grim at times, yes, utterly gruelling watching that's a struggle to get through given the sheer unrelenting pressure that seems to weigh down on its cast as much as the viewer, but it's far from hopeless. And although it deals with the sort of messages too many writers and directors like their characters to spout in lieu of actual wit or intelligence Considine seems keenly aware that in the real world, if someone manages to piece their life back together, they often still have to deal with the consequences of having wrecked it in the first place.

Mullan gives an absolutely staggering performance as Joseph, a walking masterclass in how to say volumes through a change in his expression or a momentary shake of his limbs. Tyrannosaur is about hidden depths as much as anything else, and Considine's characters are up there with something like punk Brit-lit author Jon King's White Trash.

You'd cross the road to avoid Joseph, and in some respects you'd be wise to do it, but behind that first impression there's a human being shaking the bars of his cage, desperate to find a way out. His capacity for violence is undeniably frightening, not to mention his appetite for self-destruction. Still, seeing the man sitting in the pub, hunched over a lonely pint as he tears himself apart - realising how much he must have hurt Hannah, furious with himself - it's impossible not to feel sympathy for his pain.

If anything, it's almost too good a performance. Marsan and Colman are on fine form, but Considine's script is arguably a little weak and neither he nor she can get anywhere near as much out of the more didactic exchanges as Mullan: it's telling both of them only make their roles really come to life when they're called on to let go. Hannah's character arc is equally compelling, but does fall back on one too many snatches of dialogue that sound more like something out of a soap opera.

Considine proves a hugely talented director in places - again, the opening is nigh on perfect, and his grasp of dynamics largely rock solid. The pacing and production are so carefully composed that when he does allow himself a moment of sentiment (like a later montage and the song accompanying it) it feels totally deserved. Still, he does slip up; the ending ties up the various plot threads well enough, but the execution is far too rushed, cramming several chapters' worth of material into a hasty five minutes.

For all its flaws, though, this is a tremendous début; punishing enough to put many people off (there's far worse here than kicking a dog to death!), but phenomenal cinema for all that. Despite how bleak Tyrannosaur feels, it's rarely if ever gratuitous, and the basic message - no matter how bad things get, there's still hope - is beautifully presented. Brutally honest, relentlessly grim, yet gentle, compassionate and uplifting in a way few films are, Tyrannosaur comes very strongly recommended.

THE DISC:

Studio Canal UK's BluRay of Tyrannosaur - available to buy from today (6th February) gives the film an excellent release in high definition with a quality transfer and some substantial extra features. The BluRay goes from Studio Canal's logo into three trailers (Carnage, The Awakening, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) which can be skipped individually, but not all at once. The menus are gorgeous, simple designs with minimal animation added to the poster artwork, all of which are easy to navigate. The film has been divided into 12 chapter stops (though note one of the screenshots here potentially gives away a major spoiler!).

Audio:

The basic 2.0 stereo track is solid (5.1 DTS HD is also available). Tyrannosaur is a relatively quiet film, but the audio is clear and distinct, with even the more slurred or mumbled lines of dialogue perfectly legible (unless they're not meant to be) and the gorgeous score coming across to tremendous effect. Removable subtitles are well-placed and easy to read, with very few spelling or grammatical errors. The BluRay also includes a descriptive audio track, which is clear and well-written, tending towards a poetic minimalism that fits the film very well.

Video:

The picture is good - some dark areas and night scenes tend to be somewhat blurred or indistinct but this seems to be more the way Paddy Considine shot the film than any shortcoming in the transfer. Brighter scenes have an impressive amount of detail, used to excellent effect in showing off people's faces (lined, grizzled or bruised). The bleached, blue-tinted colour palette also comes off particularly well. It's not demo material, but still an absolute pleasure to watch.

Extras:

There aren't many extras, but most of them are worth watching - most important is probably Dog Altogether, Considine's original sixteen-minute short which he expanded on to make Tyrannosaur. Clearly made with even less money (though with many of the same actors) it's still a welcome inclusion, and as well as being a powerful, haunting little piece it's fascinating to compare it with the opening to the actual film and note the changes. Note, though, that the short film does not come with any subtitles.

There are twelve minutes of deleted scenes, presented as a single chapter available with or without Considine explaining why they were cut. His reasoning seems solid for each of them - they give away too much, interfere with the pacing or drag - and he talks eloquently and enthusiastically, if rushing a little to keep up with the video. Note also that neither the deleted scenes nor Considine's commentary for them come with any subtitles.

Considine and his producer Diarmuid Scrimshaw supply an audio commentary for the film, which is definitely worth a listen - both men prove engaging and convivial, clearly happy to chat, and Considine in particular is eloquent, confident but also amusingly self-deprecating ('this is the beginning of [Joseph's] journey to a kind of awakening... if that doesn't sound like a load of bollocks'). They do resort to describing what's happening at times, but they still manage to make those moments entertaining.

Finally a stills gallery is a nice touch, if somewhat disposable - twenty-three production photos and snapshots from on set, easily navigable. The film's original trailer is two minutes, summing up the gist of the story fairly well, cut and scored to powerful effect, without giving any of the main twists away outright (though it does use images from some key moments).

Tyrannosaur is a hard film to sell - dark and oppressive, it's definitely not for everyone, but if you've got the stamina this is extraordinary cinema, despite the odd misstep. A fantastic début from Paddy Considine, and an absolutely riveting drama with a great, great cast who reward those willing to stick with it to the end, Studio Canal's UK BluRay of Tyrannosaur gives the movie an excellent presentation in high definition and comes definitely recommended.   
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