There is bleak, there is challenging, and then there is “Tyrannosaur”, a film made in the tradition of the British “kitchen sink realism” movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. Marking the directorial debut of actor Paddy Considine, “Tyrannosaur” is a brutal, uncompromising, and relentless look at the horrors of violence and the damage it inflicts, both short-term and long-term, on those it touches both directly and indirectly.
Considine focuses “Tyrannosaur” on two main characters, Joseph (Peter Mullan) and Hannah (Olivia Colman), who meet in a seemingly improbable manner with Joseph on the run and hiding out in the clothing rack of Hannah’s charity shop. Joseph initially could care less that Hannah was in her store, and Joseph demands to be left alone. However, Hannah quietly and sweetly persists in an effort to make conversation with the defiantly angry man amidst her clothing rack.
What we already know and Hannah has yet to find out is that Joseph is a widower, constantly in a drunken haze, and carrying a ferocious temper that takes only the slightest and most innocuous thing to set off. When the film opens, Joseph’s dog meets a brutal demise at Joseph’s own hands – the reason never all that clear, but the message brutal and affecting.
As Hannah hides out Joseph, she holds to positivity which eventually makes Joseph pull back as best he can with his temperament and penchant for lashing out with violence and profanity. As Joseph starts to see Hannah in a friendly light, he tries hard to suppress his rage and starts to open up a bit to Hannah, who harbors her own secrets – she is the frequent domestic violence victim by the hands of her frightening and horrifying husband, James (Eddie Marsan).
Paddy Considine, who also wrote the screenplay for this unflinching and visceral film, spends much of the time surveying faces, mannerisms, and ultimately the fragility of the proverbial masks people use to hide their pain. Unfortunately for Hannah, her mask fails her and as James continues to make his physicality towards Hannah more and more profound, Joseph feels compelled to protect and act and tap into emotions long suppressed and nearly forgotten.
There are moments in “Tyrannosaur” that you will watch through your hands and other moments that might make you close your eyes and turn away. And yet, in and amongst the viscosity of the situations which lead to Joseph and Hannah coming together, there is a proverbial rose growing out of the concrete. Peter Mullan is captivating and unnerving as Joseph, who in the opening and closing moments of the film takes out horrific aggressions on two unlucky dogs, and is a ticking timebomb on the verge of explosion at any given moment. And yet, when he is around Hannah more and more, he reclaims a bit of self that to be lost when his wife passed on.
The most resonating and affecting performance comes from Olivia Colman, extraordinarily embodying Hannah with a performance that the British comedienne has never even hinted was in the realm of possibility when viewing her previous work. Colman deceivingly takes us in with the notion that she is a helper; however, quickly to Joseph’s surprise and lament, it is Hannah who needs help nearly as much, if not more so, than Joseph.
To watch “Tyrannosaur” is at times, a difficult and ugly experience, with breath-stopping moments haunting and too organic, almost too uncomfortably real. Considine claustrophobically keeps you engaged in each moment, and the grit and grime of what plays out before you is impossible to ignore. Considine may dwell in the darker side of the human spirit for much too long, and the film, for some, may become too suffocatingly bleak to endure, but the interplay and unlikely chemistry between Mullan and Colman is as surprising and affecting as it is powerful and insightful.
“Tyrannosaur” is not a movie that makes you feel warm and cozy inside. Even with a scene near the end of the film where Joseph and Hannah touch hands and exchange tender smiles in an unorthodox setting, “Tyrannosaur” wants nothing to do with a pretty red bow wrapping everything up gently and concisely for the viewers. “Tyrannosaur” will run you through the emotional ringer, but its insight and sensibilities will speak volumes to those dialed in to the frequency Considine is transmitting at.