In­spi­ra­tion out of anger

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

AFEW weeks ago at the BAFTA awards, Tyran­nosaur, the first fea­ture di­rected by ac­tor Paddy Con­si­dine, re­ceived a nod for out­stand­ing de­but, but de­spite its pos­i­tive re­cep­tion in Bri­tain the film has man­aged to be booked into only one screen in Melbourne; amaz­ingly, no cinema in the other cap­i­tals is (at the time of writ­ing) sched­uled to screen it.

It’s a tough film and an un­com­pro­mis­ing one, with di­a­logue mostly con­sist­ing of fourlet­ter ex­ple­tives and York­shire ac­cents that take a bit of get­ting used to. Yet it’s a con­sid­er­able achieve­ment, and one that de­serves much wider ac­cess.

The cen­tral char­ac­ter is Joseph (Peter Mul­lan, far more ef­fec­tive here than he was as the fa­ther in War Horse), a mid­dle-aged wid­ower who drinks far too much, lives in a squalid part of Leeds and has a vi­o­lent, un­pre­dictable tem­per. In the very first scene, fu­ri­ous over some real or imag­ined slight in a bet­ting shop, he kicks his dog to death — quite a cur­tain-raiser for a Bri­tish film.

And that’s not all; he picks a stupid quar­rel with some youths play­ing bil­liards in the pub where he drinks and he’s al­ways ar­gu­ing with his neigh­bour, an equally volatile char­ac­ter who owns a pit­bull. Joseph’s ag­gres­sion is ob­vi­ously fu­elled by al­co­hol but, as we get to know him, it be­comes clear the rea­sons for his be­hav­iour are more deep-rooted.

Tyran­nosaur (the ti­tle refers to the name Joseph gave to his late wife be­cause she was so heavy she made the house rat­tle, like the di­nosaurs in Juras­sic Park) is a film about re­demp­tion, and af­ter in­tro­duc­ing us to its seem­ingly hope­less pro­tag­o­nist Con­si­dine, who scripted as well as di­rected, has him grad­u­ally form a close re­la­tion­ship with Han­nah (Olivia Col­man), a re­li­gious woman who runs a char­ity shop and whose abu­sive hus­band (Eddie Marsan) reg­u­larly beats her.

At first, Joseph an­grily re­jects Han­nah’s friend­ship, re­sent­ing what he sees as her pa­tro­n­is­ing at­tempts to as­sure him that Je­sus loves him when he’s pretty sure that’s not the case. Not only is his wife dead but one of his best friends is dy­ing and he has killed his own dog; life isn’t ex­actly a bed of roses — although there’s a beau­ti­ful scene in the pub af­ter the friend’s fu­neral where a sad oc­ca­sion turns into a wake filled with songs and danc­ing, a scene rem­i­nis­cent of Ter­ence Davies’s Dis­tant Voices, Still Lives.

Tyran­nosaur is al­most a com­pan­ion piece to a pair of very fine one-off films di­rected by Bri­tish ac­tors in the late 90s: Gary Old­man’s Nil by Mouth (1997) and Tim Roth’s The War Zone (1999); Old­man is specif­i­cally thanked by Con­si­dine in the new film’s end cred­its. All three films are un­com­pro­mis­ing vi­sions of as­pects of con­tem­po­rary Bri­tish life, and all three are dis­tin­guished by ex­cel­lent per­for­mances and at­ten­tion to de­tail.

Con­si­dine’s film is beau­ti­fully pho­tographed for the Scope screen by Erik Alexan­der Wil­son, whose clas­si­cal fram­ing en­hances this sad yet in­spi­ra­tional story; and the per­for­mances of Mul­lan and Col­man are be­yond praise. IF re­cent main­stream movie re­leases are any­thing to go by, the Nordic di­rec­tors are tak­ing over. Tinker Tai­lor Sol­dier Spy (To­mas Al­fred­son), Man on the Ledge (As­ger Leth) and Safe House (Daniel Espinosa) have been the work of Dan­ish and Swedish film­mak­ers and now, with Con­tra­band, along comes one of the lead­ing Ice­landic au­teurs, Bal­tasar Kor­makur, whose out­put be­fore this in­cludes most notably his screen ver­sion of the grip­ping novel Jar City, by Ar­nal­dur In­dri­da­son. Con­tra­band is, in fact, a re­make of an Ice­landic film, Rekyavik-rot­ter­dam (2008), which was pro­duced by Kor­makur, who also played the lead­ing role, a role now in­her­ited by Mark Wahlberg.

The set­ting has been ex­changed for the two ports men­tioned in the orig­i­nal film’s ti­tle to New Or­leans and Panama, but oth­er­wise the story is much the same. Bluecol­lar worker Chris Far­ra­day (Wahlberg) is at­tempt­ing to go straight af­ter serv­ing a prison term; he has a wife, Kate (Kate Beck­in­sale), and two chil­dren. When Kate’s kid brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), a ship-worker smug­gling drugs into the US on be­half of Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), a dealer, is forced to throw the stuff over­board dur­ing a Cus­toms in­spec­tion, Briggs threat­ens Kate and the chil­dren, forc­ing Chris to make good on his brother-in-law’s debts.

Con­tra­band is a fast-paced and oc­ca­sion­ally sus­pense­ful thriller, with a few un­ex­pected twists and turns in the plot­ting. The se­quence set in Panama is bru­tally well han­dled, and Ben Foster, who plays Chris’s best friend, Se­bas­tian, gives a strik­ing per­for­mance. Barry Ack­royd, a cin­e­matog­ra­pher who favours the shaky-cam ap­proach, man­ages to keep the im­age steady for most of the film, a re­fresh­ing change, but Ribisi, an ac­tor for whom the word sub­tle is a for­eign con­cept, is as over the top as al­ways. THERE’S more non­stop ac­tion in Killer Elite, based on the hotly con­tested 1991 book The Feather Men, by Ran­ulph Fi­ennes, which pur­ported to ex­pose Bri­tish covert op­er­a­tions in Oman. The film, from first-time di­rec­tor Gary Mck­endry, is, like much of Con­tra­band, short on nu­ance, but the se­ries of chases, fights and killings de­picted will prob­a­bly sat­isfy fans of this sort of thing.

It opens in Mex­ico where Danny (Ja­son Statham) and his older part­ner Hunter (Robert De Niro) have been as­signed to carry out an as­sas­si­na­tion; Danny hes­i­tates be­cause the vic­tim’s car also con­tains a child, and af­ter­wards de­cides to quit the as­sas­si­na­tion game, re­lo­cat­ing to Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley and start­ing a re­la­tion­ship with comely lo­cal Anne (Yvonne Stra­hovski).

But when he learns that Hunter has been kid­napped by a sheik (Rod­ney Afif) who will re­lease him only when Danny has killed four for­mer SAS op­er­a­tives the sheik blames for killing his three sons, Danny finds him­self up against an­other SAS man, Spike (Clive Owen), whose task is to pro­tect the men Danny is de­ter­mined to kill.

This is as re­mote from the sub­tleties of a John le Carre spy drama as it’s pos­si­ble to be, but it’s fit­fully amus­ing in its ex­trav­a­gan­cies and the ac­tion scenes, of which there are an abun­dance, are com­pe­tently staged.

In ad­di­tion to the Yarra Val­ley lo­ca­tion, the Aus­tralian in­put in­cludes Ben Men­del­sohn, as a mem­ber of Spike’s team, and Nick Tate and Bille Brown as mem­bers of the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment. Some of the in­te­ri­ors were shot in Melbourne.

Peter Mul­lan finds re­demp­tion in Tyran­nosaur

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