Went to see Tyrannosaur last night. A while since I’ve seen a film with such build-up that hasn’t been generated by the marketing. At least I think it hasn’t -although it would be a clever way of promoting it. Lots of talk about Paddy Considine‘s debut work as a director being depressing or gruesome or unwatchable etc. The Observer today called it ‘Poverty Porn’ – although perhaps the sub-editors just used that headline to generate more comment on their website and get bloggers and tweeters like me talking about it.
Tyrannosaur is depressing, yes, but it also has funny moments and even some quite touching parts. It is gruesome at points – but when compared to the list of murders, acts of violence and explosions in your average 21st century film it’s at least a different kind of gruesome. In any case it’s not a horror film – not even a nightmarish vision or a dystopia. As for ‘poverty porn’, it’s just a really good story involving poor people. I don’t think it revels in it and I think the characters are real enough.
The film treads close to certain cliches but attempts to avoid them. Peter Mullan plays the angry, old cunt (Joseph) who sits too long in pubs, losing his temper unreasonably, growling at the neighbours and behaving worse since his wife died. We’ve all met him, at least superficially. Considine seems to take this superficial impression as the starting point and then tries to work out why he’s like this.
When he meets Helen (Olivia Colman) who works in a charity shop, it looks like she’s going to rescue him, help him get over his wife’s death with a good cup of tea and a nice shag etc. Fortunately, it’s not that simple although of course there is an element of it. She’s that slightly self-righteous, middle-class, even-tempered, naive Christian woman, who we’ve also all met. So it looks like another British class film, where across the divide, two people with mirrored but differently dressed problems come to understand each other. Again, it’s not as simple, nor does it totally avoid it.
The film’s been criticised for being too dark (see above), being unrealistic in its realism, having a naff plot and so on. I think the problems with the film are some moments of too obvious direction and times when the level of the acting isn’t quite up to it. However, it’s a film that stays with you. Perhaps it is unconvincing that we end up so sympathetic for Joseph and Helen, perhaps those characters aren’t so redeemable, but it does leave you earnestly yearning for a resolution that it seems like it’s not going to give you and that is a good thing in a piece of art. We are left with hope. Why not? There’s not much of it about it.
Incidently, I like the fact that Considine is brave enough to include a nice racist. Natalie Hynes (The Observer journalist who seems to have come up with the label ‘poverty porn’) says that the Ned Dennehy character, Tommy, is “merely drunk and racist”. This is either because it’s her job to play devil’s advocat, or she’s a bit thick. Let’s hope it’s the former. These people exist, and we’ve all met them: the bloke who’s usually a good laugh, gets a bit drunk but is kindhearted, and holds some really ugly views about Asians. It makes a change not to have a simple, moral message about all racists being evil to their core – which is of course all Hynes can see of Tommy in her attempt to defend the reality of ‘poverty’ from prying middle-class film critics.