Tyrannosaur

2011 Cert: 18

Director: Paddy Considine

Initially a short film, Dog Altogether, Paddy Considine’s directorial debut is a rage fest. It is social and domestic rage emanating from exclusion, deprivation and hopelessness.

Joseph (Peter Mullen) is constantly on the verge of a violent breakdown. He sits alone in the pub twitching and muttering, his potential anger simmering like an active volcano. Incessant loud conversation winds him into a rage. In a disturbing opening scene an argument with his bookies had resulted in a savage act at which even the most hard-hearted would baulk. As this scene and the title’s eventual explanation reveal, a central theme of Tyrannosaur is how we are capable of abusing and destroying those we love.

In a role reminiscent of My Name is Joe, Mullen is commanding and likeable as a permanently enraged man caught up in a cycle of self-destruction. We always feel Joseph is aware how unreasonable his violent tendencies are and Mullen evokes his struggle to overcome this with sensitivity.

In a local charity shop Joseph meets Hannah (Olivia Coleman). At first Joseph rejects Hannah’s pious consolation, especially upon discovering she resides in middle-class suburbia. But all is not as it seems. Hannah’s increasingly frightful situation,  her lonely existence and regular bouts of domestic humiliation will eventually lead to a rage of her own with devastating consequences.

This is Olivia Coleman’s most mature performance. She is outstanding. Mostly known for her role in Peep Show, Coleman has reached a new zenith with her multi-layered performance as the childless wife, struggling to maintain her devoted Christianity amidst a volatile and sadistic relationship. 

Hannah’s double-garaged suburban respectability momentarily deceives until her secret reality is revealed. And it is secrets, resentful relationships and the ghosts of past events that haunt Joseph’s life. Visiting a dying friend he encounters a cold greeting from a familiar young woman. These mysteries are never wholly explained. Eventually, desperate to break free, Joseph quite literally sledgehammers into destruction a symbol of his past. 

There are moments one recoils as potential clichés emerge. Whilst Eddie Marsan is chilling as Hannah’s husband, James, one can’t help feeling this was pulled from the abusive spouses textbook. However, just as these clichés appear, Considine switches direction and surprises. It is about more than the obvious suffering, it is about the isolation both Joseph and Hannah experience; both retreating into a desolate life of drink and gambling or religious devotion in order to tolerate their situations. Until the only way out is rage.

Tyrannosaur is brutal and crudely sombre realism. It is a sensitive and powerful portrait of two people dislocated from society: a woman abused; a man embittered, with a violent addiction who takes it out on everyone, including domestic animals. Yet, Mullen’s performance and Considine’s compassionate script permit us to empathise. Brave.

Running time 92 mins

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