(Paddy Considine, 2011, UK)
The directorial debut of one of Britain’s most engaged actors, Tyrannosaur is in turns grizzly, biting and challenging, a rugged study of anger and the shattering effects it has on a trio of alternately damaged souls climbing the never-ending ladder to that uncertain promise of a better day. Peter Mullan, initially introduced stomping his dog to death, plays joseph; a troubled, jagged widower who spends his days wallowing in the local boozer and picking fights with the nearby post office worker, damaging as much as he can in the process. Much like his minor role in his third directed feature, the tough Neds (2010), Mullan plays Joseph as a man who, having turned his back on redemption, is eclipsed by rage, who sees everyone as an adversary. This creates an external contrast with charity shop worker Hannah, played to heartbreaking, sunny perfection by Olivia Colman in what ought to be the first of many powerful big screen roles, a woman who’s rosy face masks the pangs of domestic hardships at the hands of her simpering bully of a husband (a creepy Eddie Marsan). Juxtaposing Joseph’s lonely existence, Hannah’s is a life ruled by turmoil and an inherent fear of a bourgeois home that welcomes her return from the cluttered comforts of work with a black eye, sexual assault and a bottle of wine to down her sorrows. She is a God-fearing Christian, though her faith can only protect her so far.
Like his long-time collaborator Shane Meadows, Considine sculpts gritty pathos through sustained misery, though this is no stereotypical, run of the mill kitchen sink statement on domestic violence and the dilapidated nature of working class life in Leeds, despite such subjects being touched upon. Instead, Tyrannosaur is a searing, uncensored character study, whose brutalities, as graphic as they are, are justified and crucial, teasing out hidden truths behind the numerous masks figuratively worn by its characters and their actions. A strong theme that runs throughout the film is deception and the fronts we routinely put up to save face, seen, for example, with Joseph’s gruff, stubbly exterior juxtaposing his role as quiet protector to a young neighbour tormented by his mothers thuggish boyfriend, and the tidy home he maintains that is haunted by the ghost of his hefty deceased wife (the tyrannosaur of the title, in a nod to Jurassic Park). Similarly, in one of the films many poignant, deftly observed scenes seamlessly handled by Considine, Hannah chugs emotionlessly at a bottle of vodka at the back of her shop before gluing on a grin to welcome a customer, explaining that her nasty facial bruises were accrued by tripping in the shower, smiling through denial.
In what promises to be the first of many personal, frank and honest feature films, Paddy Considine’s cinematic entrance is a commendable piece of work, building on the work he, Mullan and Colman started in the 2007 short Dog Altogether. Though not without its minor faults (it has a tendency to lapse into cliché from time to time), Tyrannosaur is a howling and ultimately rewarding film about love and new beginnings, boosted by some astonishing performances.