In Tyrannosaur, the relatively young but well-established actor Paddy Considine (he's 37) directs a group of superb British thespians in a searing drama about a rageoholic widower in the town of Leeds. Basing his protagonists on unspecified but intimate experiences, and aspects of his own mother in the dead wife, Considine has written a film that's intense, brutal, and compelling. It takes us to the deep end of violence and cruelty but leads us through to a sense of redemption. A gray, grizzled, lonely, angry pub denizen widower, Joseph (Scot Peter Mullan, a scary life-force with both violent and sensitive sides) displays nothing but drinking-fueled violence in the early scenes of the film, in which he beats his own dog to death, smashes the window of a bank, and assaults three rowdy youths in a pub when we're barely past the credits. He runs into a charity shop to hide from the youths, and it's here he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman, complex and heartrending), with whom he will be involved throughout the film. Considine strains the audience's ability to stomach violence and ugliness, but hardly strains our credulity. He has made what is very close to a great film.
When Joseph hides behind a rack of clothes in the shop, Hannah calms him and prays for him. He begins things on an honest basis with her, declaring, "My best friend's dying of cancer. I killed my dog. I'm f--ked." Visits to his friend and a funeral punctuate the action and add perspective. The next day in a desperate emotional state Joseph returns to the shop again, but is abusive and nasty about Hannah's religiosity and what she later ironically calls her "cozy" life in the Manors housing estates. Now the film's point of view shifts to Hannah. We learn she too drinks whenever the bus takes her home to her suburban house. First it may seem this is to deal with the violent emotions she has absorbed from Joseph, but it soon emerges that she lives in a horribly abusive relationship with her jealous, cruel and desperately unhappy husband James (Eddie Marsan), whose return home is anything but a pleasure. There's a surprising role-reversal that gradually develops between Joseph and Hannah.
James' behavior makes Joseph's violence seem simpler. He urinates on Hannah for falling asleep on the sofa before he gets home, and other cruelties she reveals later that prevented her from childbearing are disgusting (and some of her experiences may strain credulity). Joseph's mood swings are scary while Joseph seems his own worst enemy but not entirely a bad man. For one thing he has one warm relationship with a kid across the street (Samuel Bottomley) who must live with his irresponsible mother (Sian Breckin) and her aggressive punk boyfriend (Paul Popplewell ) but maintains good humor and friendliness toward Joseph. There's some humor if of an insensitive kind too in Joseph's explanation to Hannah of how "Tyrannosaur" came to be his nickname for his overweight diabetic wife, but the word suggests that part of him is a prehistoric raging animal. The film's final scene offers hope for both Hannah and Joseph.
Considine seems just to be establishing character and situation halfway through the film, but when Hannah and Joseph seem equally at risk of violence, inflicted on self or by others, events become tense and suspenseful, and desperate though the characters are, we care about them and wonder what will happen between Hannah and Joseph when she leaves James for the drunken widower as the safer bet. Semi-comical rants from Joseph's drinking scraggly-haired drinking partner Tommy (Ned Dennehy) add flourishes, and the death of Joseph's friend and his funeral, which family and Hannah, now very battered and taking refuge with Joseph, provides a temporary pause before final revelations. Considine is as strong in the plotting as in the character areas, and his choice and directing of actors can't be faulted.
There is intensity and bitter truth in Considine, who steers clear of the edge of wild fantasy one finds in the Irishman Martin McDonagh. His harshness verges on the crude. But considering how well all the elements are managed here, Considine has produced a very impressive debut. He knows how to grab you and hold you all the way through. If you're looking at your watch, it just because you're terrified. Brutal and ugly this world may be, but Considine seems to know it and love it enough to show its truth and humanity. The accomplishment here is to give us lives that seem broken and hopeless and then hold our sympathy and offer a chance of a new beginning that's far from soft and easy. Erik Alexander Wilson's images, which for a welcome change are not distractingly jerky and hand-held, have a kind of limpid clarity, and there are some songs at the funeral that are almost too rich and pretty. Peter Mullan is also a director. He and Eddie Marsan figure in the dark, intense Red Riding trilogy, as does Paddy Considine. Considine is known for his beginning with Shane Meadows, and has significant Hollywood acting credits. His 2007 Bafta-winning short, Dog Altogether, presented Mullan and Colman in the same roles, differently developed.
UK, 91 min. Tyrannosaur had its US debut at Sundance where it won acting awards for Colman and Mullan and a directing award for Considine. A Strand Films US theatrical release is scheduled for October 11, 2011. Seen and reviewed as part of the New Directors/New Films series presented from March 23 to April 4, 2011 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, NYC.