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Tyrannosaur (2011,UK)

15/02/2012

Director: Paddy Considine             Starring: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan

Paddy Considine is pretty well known in his capacity as a versatile and eminently watchable British actor. There can be no doubting his talent and for me he brings to mind fellow Brit thesps Gary Oldman and Tim Roth in terms of his body of work and his substantial skill at acting. Then of course is his De Niro/Scorsese style relationship with the mighty Shane Meadows, his starring role in the powerful and disturbing Dead Man’s Shoes being a fine example of what the duo are capable of when they work together. Like De Niro, Oldman and Roth before him though, Considine has made the transition from in front of the camera to behind it with this, his feature film directorial debut.

The film is something of a reprise of Considine’s earlier short film Dog Altogether and begins with Joseph (Mullan) drunkenly staggering away from an argument in the bookies and promptly taking his anger and frustration out on the nearest thing to hand which happens to be his faithful canine companion. It’s the jagged tip of a frightening iceberg as his self loathing pushes him into further acts of self destructive violence. When he meets Christian charity shop worker Hannah (Colman) she takes pity on him despite his resentment of her “cushy” middle class life and offers hope of redemption for Joseph, but she has her own demons to overcome in the shape of her horrendously abusive husband James (Marsan).

The film has been accused of misery for its own sake by some critics and I suppose superficially it is fairly easy to see how people may come to this conclusion. Joseph and Hannah’s existences are singularly bleak. Hannah in particular suffers some outrageous indignities and abuses at the hands of her husband who exploits her Christianity to control her reactions to his abuse. Joseph doesn’t have much to live for himself, alone in the world (largely by his own making) and apparently doing his best to try and encourage someone to help him escape life permanently. Cheerful it most certainly is not but it’s grim nature is an inescapable aspect of its rather dark and distressing subject matter.

My trepidation going in was the burden that Olivia Colman has to bear by starring alongside Peter Mullan (possibly Scotland’s greatest living actor?). No disrespect to her but up until this point my experience of her was her roles in TV comedy and while she is excellent in the likes of Peep Show and Rev, these characters are light years away from the downtrodden and subjugated Hannah. Let there be no mistake. She makes this film. Her performance is simply mindblowing. Her range is extraordinary and every emotion she expresses feels utterly real. It’s as beautiful to watch as it is traumatic and she definitely holds her own alongside, and probably even outshines, Mullan who is a veteran of this sort of grizzled, troubled character study. Don’t get me wrong, Mullan is great (as always) somehow managing to elicit sympathy for a character who is anything but sympathetic but Colman is even better. I do feel a little bit sorry for Eddie Marsan though, who must take a disproportionate amount of abuse in the street from people who have allowed the lines between fantasy and reality blur a little bit. Everything I’ve ever seen him in has involved him playing repugnant characters with little or no moral fibre and a propensity for spontaneous, psychotic, unbridled violence (except perhaps Happy Go Lucky where he isn’t a psycho but is an unforgivably racist driving instructor) and it’s very difficult to dissociate the typecasting from the actor. He does have the face of a psychopath though and is perfect for the role of James here. It does make me wonder what sort of existential angst he must feel as a result of his work though.

Thematically we’re talking fairly standard “damaged souls finding redemption through helping each other” territory with a little bit of commentary on the lack of difference between social classes when it really comes down to it, the poor, benefit dependant alcoholic being no worse off really than the comfortably supported, middle class housewife. As concepts go neither are particularly fresh and original but Considine’s film injects these ideas with a savage complexity that prevents it from feeling staid and cliched. My one complaint, if you could even call is the film’s ending (that is extremely difficult to talk about without giving anything away) which attempts to bundle everything up neatly in time for the end credits and I suppose it fulfills this role more or less successfully, but it doesn’t seem especially necessary.

Considine has certainly dug deep into the dark, suffering heart of human existence with Tyrannosaur, continuing the trend set by Oldman and Roth with their Nil By Mouth and Warzone respectively, delivering a visceral and emotional film. Be warned though, it left me a little punch drunk and emotional and is probably not a film to watch if you are feeling even remotely emotionally fragile. Unquestionably worthy of its recent win at the BAFTAs if this is a taste of things to come I am sure I will enjoy Considine’s directing career as much as his acting.

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