Paddy Considine's directorial debut may not contain any rampaging dinosaurs, but it features the best performances and most affecting subject matter that you're likely to see for a considerable time. There's a wealth of richness to explore in this harrowing yet oddly beautiful exploration of the human condition and the coping mechanisms used to deal with - or avoid - the brutalities that can transpire. In a just world Tyrannosaur would be seen by the masses, almost as an educational tool to increase awareness of the people they cohabit this world with.
Then again, in a just world there would be sufficient help and understanding for those who have to suffer from the loss of a loved one or silently endure horrific spousal abuse. These are the respective fates that have befallen self-loathing Joseph (Peter Mullan) and devout charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Colman), whose lives collide when the former takes shelter behind a clothing rail in the latter's shop.
Joseph, ravaged by alcohol and guilt, pelts her with verbal abuse and viciously mocks her attempts to give him religious healing. Hardly the best start for a friendship. Yet that is exactly what transpires as the layers of Joseph's externalised anger are peeled away and a compassionate side emerges as he realises that Hannah is in a desperate emotional predicament too. For her bullying husband James (Eddie Marsan) subjects her to acts too graphic to put into print, in between pathetically begging for her forgiveness. Could Joseph and James be on a collision course?
As a movie that operates outside of predictable narrative conventions, Tyrannosaur doesn't necessarily pan out and unfold in the manner one would expect - and much to its strength. After all, this is a film that opens with the male protagonist giving his loyal canine companion a savage (and ultimately fatal) kicking. Such behaviour is undoubtedly abhorrent to say the least, but Considine's script steers us away from making any snap judgments and allows us into the man's troubled psyche.
The emergence of Joseph as a sympathetic character, despite his predilection for violent outbursts, speaks volumes about Peter Mullan's brilliance too. His brooding nature and inner rage make Phil Mitchell look like Mahatma Gandhi, but behind that Mullan conveys an innate tenderness that has been suppressed. It's utterly heartbreaking to watch, and the same can be said of Olivia Colman's portrayal.
The Peep Show actress is naturally blessed with benevolent features that instantly disarm viewers, but alongside that she captures the revulsion and desperation of a woman who is used as a physical and verbal punchbag. She's trapped within a cycle of hoping religion will save her while also seeking escapism through alcohol. In lesser hands her experiences could come across as contrived and melodramatic, but Colman is never less than utterly authentic.
As the perpetrator of the abuse on Hannah, Eddie Marsan has a less meaty role but is thoroughly convincing in his unflinching depiction of a beast. Yet he does wonders too, ensuring that layers of deep-rooted psychological disturbance emerge, steering James clear of functioning as a simple one-dimensional antagonist.
Despite its raw exploration of the human condition and council estate setting, Considine adopts a very cinematic approach to the movie rather than any naturalism or hand-held aesthetics. This works superbly, heightening the drama and adding a visual lyricism to the tale. The frequent stillness of the camera and fixed gaze upon the faces of the characters also forces us to confront what unfolds and frequently Joseph or Hannah's state of mind. Both yearn for a way out, but are trapped within the frame. Much like the viewer.
Tyrannosaur is a mesmerising masterpiece. An often unbearably tense fusion of understanding, compassion, revulsion and disgust levelled at humanity, the film taps into the empathy of the viewer through the fascinating central relationship between two damaged people who need each other. A trio of Oscar-worthy performances from Mullan, Colman and Marsan do justice to Considine's tremendously powerful writing and direction.
The end result should leave you wandering around with a face resembling Bishop Brennan's after Father Ted kicked him up the ass - but not out of pure shock at what you have witnessed. There is plenty of beauty in there too, given the transcendent capabilities of the human spirit, no matter how many times it has been trodden on.
> Paddy Considine, Olivia Colman on Tyrannosaur: "If you can be arsed, watch the film"