Review: Tyrannosaur (2011)

Cast: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan
Director: Paddy Considine
Country: UK
Genre: Drama
Official Trailer: Here

There is a scene late in Tyrannosaur that is so disciplined in its execution it evoked within me real anger. Never mind that the scene was played honestly, or that this integrity would pay off in the film’s surprisingly graceful conclusion. We are conditioned by a number of films to expect characters to behave certain ways in certain conditions and situations. Tyrannosaur is a wonderfully unique animal and it doesn’t ever behave as I expected through much of its running time. And if it ever gives in to those expectations, it does so on it’s own terms, never letting convention dictate its story, risking the sort of anger I felt for the most true, the most satisfying conclusion these characters deserve.

Peter Mullan is Joseph, a widower riding the rails on the spiraling trek to the bottom. He is a drunkard in a state of never-ending agitation, much of his day spent in foggy anger at the local pubs, staring at warm remains at the end of a glass. He has two friends to speak of, one a drunk the other dying (though we suspect he was probably a drunk too). Joseph is an angry beast with a temper as short and dangerous as you’d imagine a real tyrannosaur to be (though that isn’t where the film gets its name). He’s created many enemies as he tries to drag as many strangers down with him. There is a boy who lives across the street, abused by the man who lives with his mother that curiously looks up to Joseph, and seems to care about him. For the most part, however, Joseph is very much alone in the world as he is a rather unpleasant fellow. He is such a whirlwind of such destruction, it only makes sense anonymous men with bats come to his home one night and attack him.

He prays angrily every day and night, head lowered at his pint doubling as an altar. Forgive the world, Father, for it is an ungodly mess filled with awful, stupid and annoying people. He wipes his mouth in genuflection, and off he goes into the night, determined to make the world a more terrible place. After a fight in a bar with some chesty young men, Joseph has a breakdown. Suffocated by his own temper, mad at the world for it’s noises (loud or small) that seem to irritate him so, he escapes into a thrift shop, hiding behind a rack of clothing, clutching at them, resting his head against. This is where he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman), who runs the store. We will later understand why she so immediately recognizes a man in pain, this scared creature hiding behind the clothing. She prays for him. A real prayer. He later insults her for her faith. But it is clear her prayer made him feel better. Not the prayer, perhaps. Just Hannah’s loving touch, her understanding, her patience, her goodness.

Thus Joseph begins this tentative relationship with Hannah. He insults her, but he needs her. He rejects her, but is comforted by her. And before we start wondering if she is a saint, we see she too is in pain with demons all her own. Hannah worships at the alter of the bottle as well where she is able to escape momentarily from her dispiriting marriage to James (a vile Eddie Marsan) who beats her and degrades her in other ways I will not share here. She uses her relationship with Joseph as escape too and before long, Joseph enjoys her company in the same fashion.

There have been a number of terrific performances by actresses this year, but Olivia Colman’s stands close to pinnacle along with Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’s one of those raw emotional performances that cut right through you. The notes she hits are a big reason why Tyrannosaur is at times such a tough sit. There is a scene late in the film, the scene mentioned at the beginning of this piece, where I couldn’t take my eyes off her hands. Beyond my own comprehension, this superb actress devastated me through the frailty of her hands. Perhaps it symbolized her utter helplessness in the moment, how badly she needed someone to reach for her, to take her by the hands, to lift her up and finally, hold her. In a just world, an Oscar finds her.

Mullan, for his part, is excellent. He’s got this great set of weary eyes and a gravelly alpha-male voice to match. Mullan has played good-natured sorts in the past but he’s born to play these rugged lower British types. His last few scenes, his narration at the end, is the work of a veteran actor who knows how to work strong material.

Writer-director Paddy Consodine (a fine actor, by the way) has created a minor triumph with Tyrannosaur. It unfolds in ways you would not expect, features characters that behave like real sometimes irrational human beings and the film rewards its audience with just the right notes in its conclusion; an ending as delicate and nurturing as it is tough and unfortunate.

83/100 ~ GREAT. Tyrannosaur is a minor triumph; as delicate and nurturing as it is tough and unfortunate.

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North Carolina Film Critic. A writer and video editor, I began my career writing pieces for and am currently a regular contributor to I believe films can be great sources of entertainment but I also love that it's an art form that moves us to not only share stories, but also share ideas through pictures, music and words. I'm thrilled to be part of the Next Projection team, providing my thoughts on films both classic and contemporary.

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