Appetite for Destruction, by Scott Nye
Tyrannosaur begins with a man, in a drunken rage, kicking his dog so hard it dies. Not right away, but a few hours later in the movie’s timeline. It’s an enormously sad moment, not only because violence visited upon animals is always a little rough, but we see right away that this man regrets what he has done. He loved his dog, and in a stupid, careless, emotional moment, he robbed himself of the one thing he had in the world that loved him.
We’re relying partially on character tropes to make these connections – he falls definitively in the “old, grizzled, lonely drunk” category – but it ends up being true, and anyway, it would be wrong to fault a filmmaker for working with our knowledge of storytelling. Writer/director Paddy Considine, long one of the best actors of his generation, makes his debut here, and while he’s not a masterpiece maker out of the box, nor is he a mere craftsman exploring his medium.
Coming from a background as a considerably accomplished actor, it should come as little surprise that Paddy Considine knows how to direct a mean performance, and mean they are. We may know Joseph the moment he comes onscreen, but Peter Mullan ensures we’ll never fully understand him. He’s a bottle of emotions and instincts he’s kept at bay because he’s convinced himself he’ll be happier that way, but even that hasn’t bore much fruit. As Hannah, a friend Joseph makes almost by force, Olivia Colman steals the show (inasmuch as there is a show) with a tangled mixture of barely-repressed hatred for her immediate surroundings and a fundamental belief in each person’s innate goodness.
Considine runs into some trouble characterizing the world that surrounds these two – Joseph’s neighbors are overwrought stereotypes (though there are few things as funny as seeing his neighbor’s wannabe-toughguy boyfriend come marching down the street with his pit bull leashed to his waist), and Hannah’s husband is pretty nearly a monster; effective, but out of place. Neither detract terribly from the budding relationship between the two, and thankfully there are some wonderful supporting roles to make up for those that aren’t as effective (Joseph’s dying friend has a daughter whose every glance belies years of disdain).
As a visual stylist, Considine shies away from the look-how-gritty-this-is-my-camera-is-shaking-it’s-so-gritty stylization that characterizes much of the modern “kitchen sink drama.” Many of his shots are downright exquisite, and he trusts his actors enough to know that professional camerawork won’t detract from honest emotion, so long as the emotion is honest. Tyrannosaur is a rough film to endure at times, though it’s wise in always turning its darkness inward rather than focusing on extraneous circumstances. In this way, Considine wonders where this weird inherent desire in some people to destroy another comes from, how to atone for this, and where it stops. It’s a fascinating, promising debut.