Home Video Hovel- Tyrannosaur, by Kyle Anderson
There’s an old adage about film that if you want to make a character wholly unlikeable, show him hurting an animal or a child. This is why when, within the first few minutes of the film Tyrannosaur, we see Peter Mullan’s character, Joseph, kick his own dog to death, we know we’re in for a tough journey. Throughout the course of the film, we spend a great deal of time with Joseph and learn what he’s about and come to understand him a bit more. Whether this excuses his violent actions is up to us. Tyrannosaur, which is out on DVD this week, is the story of how life’s problems and wasted opportunities and hardships can manifest in deep, unfettered rage and how difficult it is to pull yourself out of it. It’s the directing debut for British actor Paddy Considine who also wrote the screenplay and it pulls no punches as it looks frankly at rage and violence in disaffected adults.
Mullan’s Joseph is an out of work widower in a rather bleak section of England. He spends most of his time at the bookie’s losing the money he gets from the government, drinking too much, and getting into fights. His best friend is also dying of cancer and he’s just kicked his dog to death. Basically, everything’s going great. One day, while running from guys who want to beat the tar out of him, he ducks into a Christian thrift store to hide. There he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman), the very nice woman who runs the shop. She says she’ll pray for Joseph and he responds… unenthusiastically. Hannah seems like she’s got it all together and Joseph lays into her with clearly misdirected bile. It turns out, though, that Hannah’s life is far from perfect. She’s learned she can’t have children and this has put a major strain on her relationship with her husband James (Eddie Marsan) who suspects she’s having an affair and eventually becomes violent, despite their devout religious life. Eventually, Joseph and Hannah forge an uneasy friendship as they each try to deal with their own losses, hardships, and anger at the world.
This movie is very gritty and goes places you would not expect. Just when you think things couldn’t get worse for the characters, it does. Considine is certainly working through some demons here. His previous writing credit was in 2004’s Dead Man’s Shoes (which was directed by This is England director Shane Meadows) in which he also starred. In that film, Considine takes a brutal look at revenge, family, and madness as he plays a war veteran who returns home to enact violent revenge on the thugs who harassed and abused his mentally challenged brother in his absence. For Tyrannosaur, Considine keeps the bleakness and anger but removes any perceived righteousness from it. The violence in this film is always bad and always has consequences. Even the rare occasion where you might be able to see why a character would want to resort to violence, it’s never glorified and comes at a dire price. The film is not without a sense of hope, but these are very troubled individuals and their reclamation can only come about over time.
The cast is marvelous. Mullan, who is no stranger to dark roles, plays Joseph with a real air of menace but still manages to make him a real person. This is a character who kicks a dog at the beginning of the film and yet we still sympathize with him and this is certainly due to the performance. A lesser actor would have been too arch and would have lost the point entirely. Marsan, who has the difficult job of being the ostensible “bad guy,” still delivers moments that make us at least pity him, even though at no point is he likeable. Colman is the standout here for sure. There is so much optimistic sadness (I’m aware that’s contradictory) in her performance. She has perhaps the largest arc and she lets us see just how troubled and pitiable Hannah truly is. She manages not to play the victim but instead the woman who is stuck and trying to come to terms with it and hopefully change it for the better. Colman won several awards for her performance including Best Actress at the British Independent Film Awards.
Tyrannosaur is a difficult film but a very rewarding one. Considine does a masterful job of making his world and characters real and that makes it all the more frightening and sad. The film won the top prize at the aforementioned BIFAs and Considine won Best Debut Director at both the BIFAs and the BAFTAs. Well deserved awards indeed. This is an example of what independent cinema can do when firing on all cylinders. It challenges, engages, and relates to its audience in a way that few films have in recent memory. It deals with tough subjects, but it never alienates. It will make you reflect on yourself and your life and choices and a movie that makes you think and feel is never a bad thing.