Paddy Considine’s directorial debut is another example of the power of performances to re-energise familiar concepts. Its gritty realism can make it hard-going at times, but Tyrannosaur marks Considine out as a talent to look out for not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well.
In telling the story of Joseph, an ageing widower brimming with uncontrollable rage, and the genesis of his unlikely connection with Christian shop-owner Hannah, Considine draws two strong performances from his leads. Peter Mullan, as Joseph, is a coiled spring of frustration; in a prologue, he literally kicks out at life. We see his daily routine summed up in a few early scenes – tormenting cashiers with racial abuse, drinking solitary pints in daytime bars. At first, this setup seems a little too brusque, inviting us to see both sides of Joseph’s character – he’s a good man on the inside – very quickly. It irks a little, but the feeling evaporates pleasingly as Considine moves things along.
Enter Hannah, and a disarmingly effective performance by Olivia Colman (best known to most as Sophie from Peep Show). She is kind, middle-class, well off; Joseph finds himself in her store and cannot resist the temptation to taunt her and her faith. In time, we find that appearances can be deceiving; she, just like him, has her dark secrets. Eddie Marsan as her husband, despite little screen time, terrifies.
Considine wrote as well as directed Tyrannosaur, and he shows a flair for pacing. The film is just the right length at an hour and a half. Meanwhile, the script is effective and never preachy. Joseph’s railing against life is embittered occasionally to the point of farce, but that, I think, is intentional. The film isn’t afraid to give him some cracking one liners, and to find bleak laughs amidst the poverty of these people’s lives. Ned Dennehy, as a drunken friend of Joseph’s, gets a character introduction that is funny and shocking. Throughout, there is a very real sense of the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty, both in body and mind – how can Joseph turn his life around when he lives in a broken-down estate filled such with angry souls? The rain and the concrete seem to prevent his release. That said, Considine shows us the wealthier side of town, and that has its problems too.
The drama is set to a very well-chosen score and the original music is used at just the right times. Considine isn’t afraid to show brutality but the violence of the film is mostly emotional violence; we don’t necessarily see, but we feel. The potty-mouthed script, meanwhile, may be off-putting to some, but the film sees no reason to shy away from reality.
Considine has made an assured, well-paced debut film with two very strong lead performances that compliment each other well. It’s bleak at times, but manages not to feel depressing – it belie ves in people more than it believes in the cruelty of unfortunate circumstances or character defects. At times it feels a little over-familiar, but this is a confident first feature.