Tyrannosaur. 2011. Directed & Written by Paddy Considine.
Starring Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, Samuel Bottomley, Sian Breckin, Ned Dennehy, Sally Carman, Julia Mallam and Natalia Carta.
Warp X/Inflammable Films/Film4/UK Film Council/Screen Yorkshire/EM Media/Optimum Releasing.
Not Rated. 92 minutes.
Paddy Considine is a great artist, in terms of writing and directing. He proves it here, fully. I already enjoyed his talents as an actor. However, the promise he shows in the dual role of writer-director with Tyrannosaur is astounding. Because it’s a grounded, raw and real piece of work. There’s no doubt. Every inch of this film speaks to the core of the lower middle class, hell, anyone who isn’t on the bourgeoisie scale. This movie is about the common man, its heart is in the common people. Considine writes as if he knows each of these characters, from Peter Mullan’s agonisingly truthful/equally painful Joseph to Hannah and her heartbreaking faith in the face of all hardship played perfectly by Olivia Colman. While there is truly a ton to love about Considine’s debut feature (his first work as director was the short film which turned into this: Dog Altogether), the best of everything is the fact that, among an industry almost obsessed with keeping to fads and follow along with trends, this movie touches on real issues and struggles, shockingly true to life situations and all the horrifically honest bits of life people often don’t want to acknowledge exist. At times this is a film you may want to look away from, even if its little speckles of violence aren’t explicit and graphically shown. But trust me, it’s worth the effort to get through because Tyrannosaur has a message beneath it all.
A career alcoholic and a man with constant burning rage in his heart, Joseph (Peter Mullan) has only acquaintances. His one friend, his dog, gets beaten to death one night. By his own hand. After this event, Joseph goes down the bottle even further. Between fighting people at his favourite hole in the wall bar to arguing with an idiot neighbour, something always seems to be following Joseph, to be eating him alive. After taking refuge in a store, he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) and they form a nice yet tenuous bond. She has her own problems. At home, Hannah’s husband James (Eddie Marsan), a fairly bad drunk himself , abuses her; he urinates on her after she won’t wake up when he’s home from the pub, he later beats her up. When the lives of Hannah and Joseph intersect more intensely, things begin to change for both of them. Although, for one of the two it may not turn out as perfectly as they had imagined. And soon an act transpires which can’t be changed.
On top of the raw, gritty realism of Considine’s writing, his directorial style plays just as well to the story and its themes. There is nothing fancy about the way he presents his subject. In fact, that’s what works. I find there’s a tendency for films with tough subject to often lean into trying too hard for an aesthetic which matches it, in terms of it becoming fabricated. Whereas there are films like this one and something like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy which use a very simple look, and it suits the raw feeling of the plot and story. Mostly, Considine puts us directly with both Joseph and Hannah. He finds a way to simply let the viewer watch these characters, as well as sit right in on their situation alongside them. We get great looks at the landscape around these characters, such as the lower class housing where Joseph lives and the little pubs and all that. At the same time, we’re closed in with good tight frames on the faces of Joseph and Hannah respectively. We’re as close to in their heads as possible, sort of floating along in their life. Not to say Considine doesn’t do anything interesting. He does. But it’s the way he does it so simply which makes it work flawless, it is understated film making; less is more, in a wonderfully bleak way.
Adding to the realism of the way in which Considine writes and presents his subject/themes, the two big central performances of Tyrannosaur are towering as the beast from which it takes its name.
Peter Mullan is an actor I’ve always loved. The first time I actually took notice of him personally was Trainspotting and then Session 9, but after that I went back and found all sorts of amazing performances. Here, he spreads his wings and flies. It’s utterly amazing. And crazy enough, from the first moments we see the character Joseph when he kicks his beloved dog to death, there’s somehow part of us wanting to connect. Even after seeing such a devastating and senseless, heartless act, there was something in Joseph I couldn’t shake. It’s a repulsive act to begin a film, but that’s part of the redemptive process. Mullan takes us through all the motions with Joseph, working from a despicable moment in time to the finale where surprisingly he makes it through, somehow. Part of why Joseph is able to hold onto us, or me anyways as a viewer, is because of the way Mullan plays him. There are sensitive scenes where Joseph actually appears naked and raw to us with his inner self, a man who wants to be someone else other than what he’s become. Those scenes are juxtaposed with the raging animal inside him, clawing to get out; and sometimes, it does. Mullan was and is the only man to play Joseph. Can’t see him as anyone else. The intensity of this character comes off perfect with Mullan in the role, as does the inner struggle without Considine having to write in a ton of expository back story.
No way can Olivia Colman be left out of the acting conversation. The role of Hannah is not an easy one, nor is it an uncommon life; sadly too many women suffer in disgusting relationships such as the one she and her husband have together. Colman brings a humanity to the role. Many female characters who are abuse/rape victims, such as Hannah, seem to get written wildly one-dimensional. With Hannah, Considine gives us a woman who is religious and at the same time is confronting all these things – alcoholism, physical and mental abuse, rape, et cetera – which directly contradict the heart of true religion. Colman shows us the core of a woman whose faith is holding on so hard to her heart and her mind, yet at the same time she is a woman who can only take so much. At times, I teared up, all due to Colman and her performance. It’s an excellent pairing with the powerhouse abilities of Mullan on display.
Tyrannosaur is a 5-star film. All the way. I love every last second of it, even if it is a grim watch at most points. Paddy Considine proves his worth as a writer-director. He knows how to present the grittiness of real life in a welcomed perspective. While there is an over abundance of the mental and physical violence inherent in many lives around the world, Considine also brings us into a space where redemption is possible. On one hand, the character of Joseph begins driving towards oblivion head-on and even Hannah gets caught up in this whirlwind of rage. On the other hand, both of these characters show us that, no matter what, in the end redemption can be possible. Even someone like Joseph, whose first scenes would have most people believing it would never happen. Maybe it never does, fully. But the faith in humanity, not that of religion, is what triumphs. Underneath the rough exterior, Tyrannosaur has a clear and true heart filled with the dreams of possibility.