Sundance 2011: 'Tyrannosaur,' the festival's throwback animal
For all the ways the Sundance Film Festival has developed a reputation for varied genres -- in recent years it's broken out quirky romantic comedies, low-budget thrillers and illuminating documentaries -- what it does most often, and probably best, is the hard-core drama. They're the movies people talk about most here, and the films that endure when the last interloper has left -- just look at the impact of "Winter's Bone" and "Precious" one and two years later.
It's hard to imagine "Tyrannosaur" having that sort of resonance outside the Utah bubble. But if you're looking for the quintessential dark indie drama, there may be no better example at this year's festival than the debut feature written and directed by Hollywood character actor Paddy Considine ("The Bourne Ultimatum," "In America").
The movie tells of Joseph (Peter Mullan) and Hannah (Olivia Colman), two people as far apart on the worldview spectrum as you can get. He's an older and embittered semi-alcoholic whose only life pursuit seems to be growling at people and getting into fights in his small Irish town. Hannah, meanwhile, is a do-gooder who works in a Christian charity thrift shop and believes in man's fundamental goodness. But they're both deeply lonely, and both have suffered a lot more than they like to talk about. As the film progresses, we watch as they collide and connect in surprising ways. (In a Hollywood movie this would all be spelled out; here, much is done through intimation and suggestion.)
When we caught up with Considine in Park City -- "They have a Wal-Mart in the mountains!" he began in a sarcastic, what-will-they-think-of-next voice -- he told us that his motivation for making the movie was more visceral than rational. "It was just something I felt inside me and had to get out."
In addition to its emotional component, his is also a movie of ideas, primarily in its skepticism about religion. (He shows, for instance, how useless Hannah's faith is in saving her from her various miseries.) Was he aiming to put forth an atheistic point-of-view?
“I wasn’t trying to make a statement,” the filmmaker said. “But I do think too many people are worried about an existential thought instead of the here and now. They’re thinking, ‘What do I do to get into heaven’ instead of asking, 'What can I do to make my life better with my fellow man?' That’s what I wanted to show in the movie.”
But if he wanted to show the fragility of human connections, Considine also realized that, as with "Precious" and "Winter's Bone," you need to give the audience a little bit of a hug at the end of the film. "I did want a little redemption, a little uplift."
But then he added, "Life is a series of episodes. It's about getting through them. Redemption doesn't always mean happily ever after. " It's optimism, Sundance style.
-- Steven Zeitchik in Park City, Utah
Photo: Peter Mullan in 'Tyrannosaur.' Credit: Sundance Film Festival