Written and directed by Paddy Considine. Starring Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan. 92 mins.
Expanded from Dog Altogether, Considine’s 2007 Bafta-winning short, Tyrannosaur is a powerful directorial debut exploring uncontrollable rage and violence, and how they can destroy the lives of those we love as well as our own.
Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a grizzled, lonely, alcoholic widower, and he has a disease – anger. After being kicked out of a pub, Joseph boils over and finds no outlet for his rage. Unable to control himself, he kicks his small dog to death. It is a powerful opening, the canine’s shrill yelp barely audible over the audience’s sharp intake of breath.
With this shocking moment, we are immediately presented with Joe’s plight – an everyday struggle to contain the monster beneath the surface, the beast within. Joe, in Considine’s own words, “goes out on the rage for a day.” His violent episodes are irrepressible indulgences in his desolate life, instantly regretted and only adding to his downward spiral of rage and misery. Considine is no stranger to displaying rage and violence on screen – his performance in cult hit Dead Man’s Shoes (2004), directed by close friend Shane Meadows after the two penned the screenplay together, is particularly chilling. Similarly, Mullan has also explored anger and abuse in Ken Loach’s My Name is Joe (1998).
In Tyrannosaur, under Considine’s attentive direction, Mullan’s performance is immensely powerful and terrifying. We see not only the outward anger, but the anger within, as Joe becomes frustrated with his own inability to control himself. Each action has consequences, often immediate and painful ones.
One day, determined to prevent an impending fit of rage, Joe stumbles into a charity shop and hides behind a clothes rack. The shop’s Christian manager, Hannah (Olivia Coleman), timidly but resolutely decides to help the troubled stranger, only to be brought to tears by Joe’s antagonism and his harsh mocking of her seemingly perfect middle-class life. Joe initially relishes this opportunity, finding that hurting Hannah emotionally provides the outlet he needs.
Yet, once Joe returns to the shop and apologises, both characters slowly begin to drop their guard. In Hannah, Joe finds something of the wife he has lost; the parallels between the two are clear: “She had a naive faith in people.” Yet it soon transpires that Hannah’s life is not as perfect as it seems; her happy marriage exposed as veneer-thin once her abusive husband, James, enters the fray (a chilling Eddie Marsan). In a slowly developing state of prevailing sadness, Hannah’s Christian faith is revealed to be a coping mechanism for her unbearable home life; the charity work and volunteering ways to give purpose and meaning to her agonizing and worsening situation. Tyrannosaur’s real tragedy is not Joseph – he has made mistakes and he is paying for them. Rather, it is Hannah, and Colman’s emotional performance has already garnered much (well deserved) praise.
Ultimately, Tyrannosaur is a quest for redemption and salvation. In Hannah’s situation, Joe sees perhaps more than he wants to (there is a terrible implication regarding his deceased wife, whom Joe teasingly nicknamed Tyrannosaur due to her size, while ironically failing to recognize his own tyrannical monster within). It is for this reason that he decides to help Hannah, perhaps on some level in an effort to redeem his own soul, whether he believes in such a thing literally or figuratively. For Hannah, Joe offers hope for salvation; an unexpected savoir from a life of abuse and silent suffering.
Tyrannosaur is an immensely powerful film, skilfully avoiding the clichés of a kitchen-sink drama to create a visceral exploration of self-hatred, anger, pain and suffering, both simmering beneath the surface and spilling over. Paddy Considine has commented that he feels he has found his place as a director, and it is hard to argue with a debut like Tyrannosaur.