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Brit director goes dark with 'Tyrannosaur'

TORONTO - Critics may love it, but British director Paddy Considine knows his feature-length debut "Tyrannosaur" is not everyone's cup of tea.

TORONTO - Critics may love it, but British director Paddy Considine knows his feature-length debut "Tyrannosaur" is not everyone's cup of tea.

The film's chillingly dark tone is set in the opening scene as a man fatally beats his own dog. The widower, played by Peter Mullan ("War Horse"), is consumed by explosive bouts of violent rage and seems beyond redemption. But a chance meeting with a Christian charity shop worker — who feels compelled to help him out of religious duty — offers a glimmer of hope that he might find peace.

Meanwhile, that charity worker (Olivia Colman) is fighting her own demons, trapped in an abusive relationship. The audience is quickly left feeling there's probably no Hollywood happy ending for any of the troubled characters.

But Considine is convinced there's an audience for brooding "human dramas" like his, and says he's always glad to see heavier films getting screened alongside the big budget popcorn flicks.

"You've got to be honest, the loads of super-hero films over the last few years — 'Batman' aside — have been absolute pish and there's no thought to them," said Considine during an interview at last September's Toronto International Film Festival.

"You got to have faith that there's a hunger for films like this. People want to see human stories, they are interested. Hollywood is still the benchmark — people still look at that place in awe like it's the standard — but the movies there are made by committee, they're made by accountants, as far as I'm concerned."

Increasingly unsatisfied with acting (Considine's onscreen credits include "In America," "Hot Fuzz" and "The Bourne Ultimatum"), he got into movie-making by writing and directing the short film "Dog Altogether," which would go on to win a British film award and a Silver Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2008.

Buoyed by the critical acclaim, Considine sought to expand the short into what would become "Tyrannosaur." He figured it'd be fairly easy to round up financing and support for the film.

"When 'Dog Altogether' won the BAFTA I thought, naively, 'Well, at least we could use this to build a film off it' — and we didn't. In fact, people dropped out of 'Tyrannosaur,' our budget halved," said Considine with a sigh.

"And I just automatically thought, 'Well, when we make a feature film Venice will have us' — and it didn't happen, they didn't want our film."

But other festivals did take it, including Sundance last year, where Considine won the World Cinema Award for Directing in the drama category, and Mullan and Colman won World Cinema Special Jury Prizes for Breakout Performances. "Tyrannosaur" was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema in the drama category.

And last week, Considine was nominated for a British Academy Film Award in the outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer category.

Looking back, operating with a far reduced budget of a little over $1 million was good for "Tyrannosaur," Considine said, especially since it meant he had no interference from outsiders looking for a more commercial product.

"What it gave me was the freedom to cast who I wanted and shoot it how I wanted ... without having to make 10 phone calls to 10 different people," he said.

He's working with a much bigger budget for his next film and he's already wary about the strings that come with more money.

"Could you make 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' today? I don't know that you could," Considine said, alluding to the pressures filmmakers face to appeal to a mass audience.

"Every jawline and six-pack in Hollywood would be fighting over who played McMurphy (Jack Nicholson landed the role) and it just seems like it'd be a disaster."

"Tyrannosaur" opens in Toronto on Friday.