Review: Tyrannosaur (2011)

Director: Paddy Considine

****

A word of warning: Tyrannosaur does not feature any tyrannosaurs nor any other type of dinosaur. However, it does feature some very dangerous creatures. When we first meet Joseph (Peter Mullan), he’s swearing after an unseen encounter at the bookies. He vents his frustration on his pet dog, with fatal results. From the opening, Tyrannosaur demands attention.

It was a fair expectation that when Paddy Considine, a master of charmingly unhinged characters, would make his directorial debut, it would be something with a bit of edge. Joseph is thus appropriately permanently on edge; embittered, lonely and depressed, his temper and his fondness for alcohol get him into violent encounters. After one such encounter, Joseph flees and hides in a charity shop operated by Hannah (Olivia Colman). Her goodness and Christian faith grate on Joseph at first, but he finds himself drawn back to her, as her life seems to be the complete opposite of his. It’s easy to see why Joseph is drawn to Hannah; next to Mullan’s (ever-excellent) gruffness, Colman is utterly lovely. When he initially throws her generosity back at her, her fragility is glimpsed. Our sympathy for her is already assured, but when we witness her home life, and her abusive husband James (a weirdly scary Eddie Marsan), audience hearts begin to break. Colman’s performance is truly devastating, veering between fragility, naivete and great strength from scene to scene. Joseph wants to help, but Hannah has enough gumption to help herself. Besides, he needs a lot of help too. His most significant relationships are with fellow drunkard Tommy (Ned Dennehy) and Samuel, the little boy across the street (Samuel Bottomley). It’s a credit to the cast, and to Considine as a writer that, for all the violence (some of it sexual) and tough talk, the most memorable aspect of Tyrannosaur is the relationships and humanity of it all. Joseph and Hannah aren’t star-crossed lovers; they are kindred spirits, united by a need for genuine human companionship. The basis for their bond is mature and genuine affection, a trait that many cinematic romances take for granted. As we watch Hannah find sanctuary and Joseph open up, the care that each of these characters gives to the other is truly uplifting.

Considine’s direction is expectedly confident, but not for the sake of being brash. He wisely forsakes the documentary style, which would make this material more miserable than it already is. Tyrannosaur feels like Ken Loach at his grittiest; harsh, but knowingly cinematic and infused with a certain joy. Admittedly, Tyrannosaur is a downer on the whole, but there are glimpses of light throughout, mostly thanks to rich characterization and great performances. Tyrannosaur is one of the most confident and reassuring directorial debuts of the year, unassuming yet determined and destined to make a tyrannosaur-sized impact.

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