Tyrannosaur is the debut film from actor turned writer/director Paddy Considine. You might remember him in things like In America, Cinderella Man, or even Hot Fuzz. I’ve always enjoyed his on-screen presence, but I was ill prepared for his electric debut behind the scenes. Paddy made his debut in a Shane Meadows movie, and has collaborated with the director many times. Although I’ve yet to see a Meadows picture, from all accounts it would seem Paddy has picked up a few things from the indie-British stalwart.
Tyrannosaur begins with a brutal act of violence committed by Joseph. Joseph, played by Peter Mullan (who has a free pass for life for being in Trainspotting), is a self-destructive widower spending his days collecting government checks and drinking away his regrets. After the opening moments, and because of how we’re introduced to Joseph, the rest of the film has no choice but to feel tense. At any moment Joseph might lose his cool and hurt someone or himself. Mullan is sensational in this movie. If you’ve seen him in anything else, you know he can rage with the best of them. However, I was taken aback by his quiet contemplative moments. These scenes are sometimes about his inner strife, the battle for his soul, and other times we are simply witnessing his thought process. Mullan is so good that we can connect the dots with only his steely stare to guide us.
Joseph meets Hannah, a shop keep with a penchant for religion. Hannah also lives in state of violence stemming from her despicable husband, played by Eddie Marsan. Our introduction to her married life is about as degrading as things can get. And so we have two people with seemingly nothing in common discovering a kind of solace with each other. This is the story, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the wealth of depth the movie contains. There are brilliant insights into human nature, classism, violent cycles, and cruelty. It is also very much about its locale. Paddy grew up in similar places, so the environments, as well as the characters, feel nothing less than authentic. I wouldn’t be surprised if Considine listed Mike Leigh as a major influence for all of these reasons.
As assured as Paddy’s direction is and as good a performance Mullan turns in, the real remarkable thing about Tyrannosaur is Olivia Colman as Hannah. She is tremendous in this movie. I only know her from a small part in Hot Fuzz, and she is mostly known for comedic work on British TV, but she is heart-wrenching here. It is a remarkably layered and full performance. At first you’re not even sure you like her, she’s a little uptight and almost laughable. But the more you learn about this character and her life, the more Colman brings you around to completely sympathize with her. And then the dénouement completely recontextualizes half the movie including her performance. It becomes something else entirely, something transcendent. I actually think Tyrannosaur would make a great double feature with another little seen Mullan film, Session 9.
This is a marvelous debut. It might seem like another bleak and staid indie-drama, but the film is much more alive than that. There are some nice little comedic moments, including a clever reference to another Mullan movie, Braveheart. Most importantly, Paddy truly understands how to show you something instead of telling. He captures some magnificent performances and leaves room for metaphor without any pretension. I should warn animal lovers to stay away for the film is on the brutal side, but any and all film lovers should seek this one out.