Inspiration out of anger
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