Directed by Paddy Considine. Starring Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Ned Dennehy 18 cert, QFT, Belfast; Cineworld/IFI, Dublin, 92 min
This harrowing drama of brute, unchannelled anger will you leave gasping, writes DONALD CLARKE
THE OPENING moments of Paddy Considine’s realist drama leave the viewer in no doubt that he or she is in for a harrowing experience. Joseph, the film’s poisonously frustrated protagonist, leaves the bookies after watching his chosen horse fail to romp home. Fired with anger, he turns on his dog (an animal he later admits to loving) and kicks it to death. He returns home, calmly digs a hole and leaves the animal to the worms.
When you hear that Peter Mullan – an actor who specialises in hopeless cases – plays the troubled Joseph, you will understand that the tone is unlikely to perk up any time soon.
Very few films pack quite the emotional wallop of Tyrannosaur. Making his debut as feature director, Considine, one of the era’s best actors, expands Dog Altogether,his acclaimed short, into a veritable orgy of fear, desperation and anguish. Maybe it drifts towards melodrama. Too often, giving into narrative sadism, the film seems to positively relish unveiling the latest domestic atrocity. One suspects Mullan is in danger of being typecast as a stereotypical Celtic brute. But the film confirms that Considine has a talent worth savouring.
Set in the section of Leeds that borders on Mordor — Erik Wilson’s cinematography finds awful greys in every corner – Tyrannosaurpropels Joseph towards an uneasy relationship with the troubled woman who runs the local charity shop. Given twitchy, passive breath by Olivia Colman, Hannah has taken solace in Jesus Christ. In a more forgiving film, Joseph would, after cursing God, eventually reach an accommodation with the poor woman’s faith. But Considine has (early on, anyway) no truck with such sentimentality. She frowns at him. He snaps at her. Eventually, following various traumas, they find themselves uneasily sharing the same space.
It transpires that Hannah is trapped in a horrifically violent relationship with a mousy but dictatorial middle-class husband (the flawlessly malign Eddie Marsan). Continuing to shovel on the everyday horror, Considine introduces the brute in a scene where, after returning home late from the pub, he urinates on Hannah while she pretends to sleep on the couch. Be warned. Worse is to come.
Though this is a film full of strong performances, Colman steals the show with a turn that rapidly dispels any memories of her comic persona in Peep Show. Watching her, you are reminded how rarely cinema deals effectively with the subject of terror. Even in the most darkly Russian of art films, actors too often unconvincingly resort to tensed knuckles and darting eyeballs.
The coiled anguish that Colman musters when, after a harmless misunderstanding, she contemplates an inevitable beating fairly tears the screen to shreds.
The film has many other strengths. Our own Ned Dennehy, a perennial string of misery, manages to make Joseph’s drunken, casually racist pal strangely lovable. Marsan quietly injects dangerous psychosis into his role. A tune from Damien Dempsey adds unexpected colour.
And yet. It’s hard to escape the notion that the film seeks out misery for misery’s own sake. At times, Tyrannosaur(the title refers to an unkind remark Joseph makes about his late wife) piles on so much urban melodrama that it takes on the quality of a vérité horror film. When Considine does try and inject some consolatory humanity – in an incongruously redemptive finale – the picture then veers too far in the opposite direction. Nihilism is replaced by something a little like Victorian morality.
It would, however, be churlish to overly criticise any film that renders the viewer quite so emotionally drained. Despite that title, no sane person is likely to confuse Tyrannosaurwith Jurassic Park.