Review: Tyrannosaur (2011)

Tyrannosaur, actor come filmmaker Paddy Considine’s expansion upon his critically acclaimed yet seldom seen short film Dog Altogether, is no easy watch. Centered on issues of loneliness, domestic abuse and poverty, it’s a distressingly blunt British drama with a level of honesty that’s rarely seen.

Plagued by brutality and an inner turmoil that’s leading him towards self-destruction, Joseph (Peter Mullan) happens upon Christian charity worker Hannah (Olivia Colman), who, at first, seems like the perfect antithesis. As their relationship deepens, dark secrets about their respective personal lives boil to the surface, with potentially devastating consequences.

While Considine has unquestionably asserted himself in the film industry as a brilliant actor through his attentive and honest attitude towards the characters he plays and the stories these inhabit, it’s still surprising to witness him slip so comfortably into his roles as writer and director on Tyrannosaur, bringing a careers worth of influences, attitudes and tendencies with him. With these, and in unison with skilled cinematographer Erik Wilson, help him to paint a picture of the stark realities of the cut-throat world in which Joseph and Hannah live in, and the turbulent lives in which they’ve endured.

In choosing to flesh out Dog Altogether, Considine clearly revels in a zone he’s fully comfortable with. He steps his efforts up to the max, both in his ability to establish a well-paced narrative and to find happiness in the most unlikely places. Tyrannosaur is an earnest, cleverly constructed and powerful British drama that will – if people aren’t too shocked by its authenticity towards domestic abuse, loneliness and the throes of life – become a worthy addition to the social realist genre already so well handled by Shane Meadows, Mike Leigh, Lynne Ramsay and Ken Loach.

Excellent direction and absorbing narrative aside, Tyrannosaur’s strength and power to elicit an uncomfortable yet understanding reaction from its viewers lies in its ability to retain a hefty focus upon its battered and bruised characters. It’s the actors, then, who deserve the most acclaim, as they are the ones who command our attention and make us sit up and take notice of what could be taking place so close to where we’re sitting.

Mullan and Colman, in equal measures, turn in stand-out, resonating performances as tortured souls Joseph and Hannah. Colman, in particular, an actress well-known for her off-kilter comedic roles, introduces us to Hannah: a weak, timid shell of a woman, before turning this portrait on its head by an act of provoked ruthlessness. Not only is this Colman’s long-overdue revelatory performance, but it also cements her as a talent to be reckoned with. Eddie Marsan, albeit in a smaller role, is equally as compounded: both fractured and menacing as Hannah’s debased husband.

There’s no doubt about it: the content is harsh, brutal and unnerving. But, through Mullan and Colman’s adherence to their characters and Considine’s remarkably laid-back direction, the poignancy and dumbstruck reality behind what their on screen personas are experiencing is violently pulled to the forefront. It feels uncomfortable yet oddly natural to succumb to the turbulent ride, letting the eventualities seep into your skin from the offset and course through your soul for the entire running time.

That, in itself, is an incredible feat that not many filmmakers are able to pull off over the course of a lifetime, let alone in their feature directorial debut. Considine has made one of the best British films of the year: an intrepid yet poignant drama that unnerves in a way you wouldn’t believe.

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