DIR/WRI: Paddy Considine • PRO: Diarmid Scrimshaw • ED: Pia Di Ciaula • DOP:Erik Wilson • DES:Des Hamilton • CAST: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, Ned Dennehy, Samuel Bottomley
Tyrannosaur opens with a scene of quite stunning force and brutality in which lead character Joseph (Peter Mullan) commits an act of callous brutality. In any other standard film, this would kill any hope or chance of sympathy for Mullan’s character from a viewing audience. But it is one of the quiet triumphs of Paddy Considine’s directorial debut that he not only does not go out of his way to make his characters sympathetic but rather shows them as multifaceted, complex individuals.
Joseph is in his Fifties, out of work, a spinster living on a council estate in the North of England; a lonely, raging, embittered figure, lashing out against the world around him. No longer able to contain his anger, he takes it out on his only companion; his loyal pet dog and kills him in a fit of self-destructive rage.
Initially presented as a pitiable and frightening figure, Joseph’s more sympathetic and vulnerable aspects are slowly drawn out upon a chance meeting with Hanna (Olivia Coleman) a sweet, understanding woman who runs a local charity shop. Hanna’s kindness and forgiving nature initially inflame Joseph’s rage but when he discovers the painful secrets masked by her stoic, Christian facade a deep and powerful bond forms between these two damaged people.
Considine, a fine actor in his own right perhaps best known for his work with director Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes, This is England) shows full-blooded confidence here as a director, never flinching from the grim reality these characters inhabit with cinematographer Erik Wilson’s grey, overcast palette capturing the grim, unforgiving feel of day-to-day life on an estate. It’s clear that Considine understands this milieu and the lives of his characters. There is a real sense of empathy for these people marginalized and ignored by societies institutions, forced to fight and scrape for their right to exist; to obtain a modicum of dignity and joy.
The stylistic influence of figures such as Ken Loach, Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth and the aforementioned Meadows loom large over Tyrannosaur and it clearly belongs to the social realist tradition that emerged from English theatre, literature and film in post-WWII Britain in the mid 1950s with its gritty depiction of working class life and in its handling of difficult, controversial subjects; in this case spousal abuse.
But where Considine slightly differs is in his more artful approach to the material. He wants to look at the nature, the source of male self-destruction and violence and deploys a more artful and stylized approach highlight this theme using slow motion, heightened sound effects and a tactile focus on textures such as skin and hair to show Joseph’s inherent animalism; much like that of a lost, wounded dog.
In the midst of all this tragedy, there are occasional moments of hope such as Joseph’s touching relationship with Samuel (Samuel Bottomley) , a boy with an errant mother who lives across the road from him and whose blithely innocent nature offers a stark contrast to the harshness of the adult world around him.
Considine’s sure handling of the visual and thematic aspects of his script would be all for nought were it not for the uniformly brilliant performances of his cast and in particular the great Peter Mullan as Joseph and Olivia Colman as Hannah. Mullan couldn’t hit a false note if he tried and here he is impossible to take your eyes off throughout, a furious ball of guilt, confusion and fear whilst Colman is simply heartbreaking; all tremulous vulnerability as Joseph’s saviour.
An overwhelming and at times grueling experience, Tyrannosaur is a remarkable first feature from Considine and an example of British cinema at its finest.
Derek Mc Donnell.
Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)
Tyrannosaur is released on 7th October 2011
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