By Don Simpson | December 5, 2011
Director: Paddy Considine
Writer: Paddy Considine
Starring: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Ned Dennehy, Samuel Bottomley
Within the first seven minutes of Tyrannosaur, Joseph (Peter Mullan) kicks his dog to death, shatters a storefront window and punches a teenage boy. On the dole and full of rage, Joseph spends most of his waking hours down the boozer. On one fateful day, Joseph stumbles into a Christian thrift-store and an unlikely relationship develops between him and a volunteer at the store, Hannah (Olivia Colman).
It takes a while for writer-director Paddy Considine to explain Hannah’s kindness towards Joseph, because for most of the film he seems like a cartoonish caricature of a drunken curmudgeon. So how does a director make a hateful character like Joseph worthy of Hannah’s — and thus the audience’s — sympathy? That is right! Introduce us to someone even more horrible than Joseph; and that would be Hannah’s lunatic husband, James (Eddie Marsan). We first meet James as he pisses on Hannah while she fearfully pretends to be asleep; when she wakes up, he beats her. A few scenes later James beats and rapes Hannah some more. So, basically, Hannah spends a majority of the film with a badly bruised and swollen face. And despite Hannah’s continued kindness, Joseph continues onward in his surly and malicious ways; though once Joseph discovers the truth behind Hannah’s bruises, he finally begins to develop some resemblance of humility.
The ugly brutality of the subject matter — specifically the violence against women, children, and canines — renders Tyrannosaur practically unwatchable (and certainly difficult to recommend to others). Thankfully, though, Tyrannosaur never fetishises the violence, usually allowing it to occur offscreen. Considine is much more interested in slowly revealing the psychological layers of his film’s characters. Joseph’s anger is rooted in something that has become too amorphous to identify; all we can surmise is that he holds on to a sense of shame over his cruel treatment of his deceased wife and the recognition that he would behave no differently if she were still alive. Hannah’s martyred existence is revealed to be a merely facade that she has developed in order to deal with the shame of tolerating abuse. Her job at the thrift-store, her marriage to James, her friendship with Joseph, all serve the purpose of giving meaning to her humiliation and pain. Religion has thus become part of Hannah’s co-dependency as she covers up her shame (and alcoholism) with the sheep’s clothing of Christianity.
Considine’s use of long takes allows for the audience’s focus to remain on the characters — specifically Peter Mullan in his best role since Ken Loach’s My Name is Joe (1998) — while utilizing a gritty, kitchen-sink lens to showcase a pessimistic worldview of gender-warfare and working-class miserablism that is grounded in unemployment and alcoholism. In Considine’s eyes, Leeds is a working-class suburban hell where all women, children and canines must cower at the ever-present fist of masculine fury. A brutal and godless cast of men they are, as no male in Tyrannosaur is left untainted by the sheer senselessness of masculine violence.