Tyrannosaur

Tyrannosaur

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Paddy Considine isn't pulling any punches with his debut film. His Tyrannosaur is, like its namesake, a heavy, vicious beast with an emphasis on destruction. Developed from his award-winning short film Dog Altogether, it stars Peter Mullan as Joseph, a man living in an urban wasteland of terraced housing and back-to-backs, whose fuse is so short it will blow your stress levels.

Considine sets the tone early when Joseph, in a pure, misdirected rage, kicks his dog to death, an act of uncontrolled anger that only serves to enrage him further. It seems unlikely then that any good can come of a chance encounter with charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Colman). To him, she is the epitome of a middle-class do-gooder, with her gentle demeanour and offer to pray for him. In reality, however, she, too, has a ringside seat for misdirected violence - only this time as a victim of her husband.

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There's a sense of damaged souls finding common ground, as a fledgling relationship develops between the pair, but violence is a constant companion in Considine's movie - and it's violence of a very real and visceral sort, as things get nasty in the way that gritty British movies such as Nil By Mouth (surely an influence here) have a tendency to do. The dogs in this film may not come out on top, but they aren't the only beasts acting on impulse, with the humans - particularly the men - being shown to be every bit, if not more territorial, violent and animalistic than their four-legged companions.

Initially, Considine shies away from showing too much of the violence, letting implication speak louder than a full frontal assault. But as his film progresses he seems to lose faith in his audience to get the picture and begins to wallow in it more than is necessary, particularly abuse of the marital sort. The lack of upbeat moments also makes this the cinematic equivalent of blunt force trauma, where a more experienced director would have known shade works best when you let in some light.

What really stands out in Tyrannosaur, however, are the towering performances - both of which won breakout awards at Sundance Film Festival. Mullan - able to show inner turmoil with little more than the set of his jaw - has rarely been better than here, allowing us a window into the conflict in Joseph's soul. Eddie Marsan, too, puts in an intense and compelling turn as Hannah's abusive spouse. But it is Olivia Colman who is the real revelation. Best known for her comedy turns in the likes of Peep Show and That Mitchell And Webb Look, she sinks her teeth into Hannah and doesn't let go, expertly creating a magnetic combination of fragility and unexpected steel.

Although some will find the unremitting portrayal of violence difficult to stomach, this is nonetheless an assured debut that has already won the directing award at Sundance and which promises better to come, and is worth seeing on the strength of its performances alone.

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2011
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A man plagued by inner rage forms an unexpected relationship with an abused woman.
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If you like this, try:

Dog Altogether
Nil By Mouth
Snowtown