Film Review: Tyrannosaur

Joseph (Peter Mullan) is embroiled in a war with his own environment; his actions are a pressure valve for the demons eating away at his soul.

“I killed my dog. My best friend’s dying of cancer. I’m ****ed,” says angry alcoholic Joseph (Peter Mullan) in ‘Tyrannosaur.’ His words perceptively sum up the grim mood of a film in which the opening moments see Joseph‘s poor canine chum kicked into the next world by his owner. Not the dogs fault; he is just an innocent victim of one of Joseph’s regular rages. The scene is shocking but mercifully brief and sets the audience up for the next ninety minutes which, although clearly not a barrel of laughs, constitute one of the best films of the year.

Joseph is a seething maelstrom of fury, much of which he directs against himself.  He shambles around the streets of Leeds ranting raving and doling out retribution to anyone that is foolish enough to cross him. Among these are a gang of gobby youths in a bar and Joseph’s thuggish neighbours.  Inanimate objects do not escape his wrath either, as Joseph takes a baseball bat to the garden shed.  This is a man embroiled in a war with his own environment; his actions are a pressure valve for the demons eating away at his soul.

There seems little hope for Joseph until he crashes through the door of a charity shop and is discovered by Hannah (Olivia Colman), a kind Christian who works behind the counter.  Their first meeting is tense and peppered with profanity as Joseph attacks Hannah’s faith. He returns later to find a suit for his friend’s funeral and they start to form a fragile bond. Joseph gives Hannah a tour of his downbeat life while she lends a sympathetic ear. However, Hannah’s life is not all hand outs and hymn sheets. She is trapped in an abusive marriage with the appalling James (Eddie Marsan.)  Her husband’s jealously over her growing friendship with Joseph takes the film to a tragic conclusion.

The title of ‘Tyrannosaur’ refers to a nickname Joseph had given his late wife. Terribly overweight and stricken with diabetes, the poor woman would lumber around the couple’s house. The vibrations she produced caused ripples in Joseph’s tea reminding him of the approaching T-Rex in ‘Jurassic Park.’ The name of the film might also refer to the raging monster lurking within Joseph or perhaps, as the excellent poster art for the film suggests, the mixture of grief and guilt that lies buried deep within him like an ancient skeleton.

‘Tyrannosaur’ was written and directed by the actor Paddy Considine who developed it from an earlier short film. The highly talented Considine is a familiar face to any fans of the director Shane Meadows.  He also pops ups in the odd Hollywood film, such as ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’, but he has generally opted for roles which depict the grittier side of life. This is an aspect which he seems oddly comfortable with and appears to fully comprehend. With ‘Tyrannosaur,’ he takes us to a cold place indeed; a bitter, hopeless underbelly where only God or the price of a pint can bring relief.

There is strength to be found in friendships and even love but both are under threat from the hatred that is commonplace. ‘Tyrannosaur’ is downbeat and authentic but has grand cinematic ambitions.  Near the close of the film, when Joseph finally decides to bring retribution to his neighbours, it results in a horrible but brilliant lasting image.  On the evidence of this directing debut, which the actor pursued on the advice of fellow thespian Gary Oldman, Considine has an exciting future ahead of him behind the camera.

Olivia Colman, best known as Sophie in the comedy series ‘Peep Show’ is a revelation as Hannah, with a breakdown scene which is almost too painful to watch. The always reliable Eddie Marsan conveys both sides of a sociopathic abuser, the brutality followed by the hurried apologies.  By far the greatest asset of the film is the central performance by Peter Mullan.

Mullan is stunning in ‘Tyrannosaur.’ He does not merely act the part of Joseph; he appears to be living it with his weathered features and threatening volatile screen presence. It is a performance of immense power and yet remarkable subtlety.  Mullan is a movie star, in the way that Gene Hackman or Robert Duvall are movie stars, because whenever he appears you are compelled to watch him.  If any film should get him the recognition he deserves then it is ‘Tyrannosaur.’

‘Tyrannosaur’ is not the obvious choice for a fun night out but the joy of cinema is that it can offer pleasure in a variety of different ways. In this case, enjoyment comes in the high quality of the production and the fact that Considine has created a recognisably raw depiction of humanity. If you are a genuine lover of film and appreciate top class acting, then you should see ‘Tyrannosaur’ as soon as possible.

Director: Paddy Considine
Cast: Eddie Marsan, Olivia Coleman, Olivia Colman, Paul Popplewell, Peter Mullan, Sally Carman.”
Runtime: 92 mins
Cert: 18 (UK)
Release Date: 7th October 2011

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.


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