Tyrannosaur sets its stall out early. Within minutes, a dog has been kicked to death, and that tone carries on throughout pretty much the rest of the film. Make no mistake, Tyrannosaur is not a film to watch if you want some lighthearted entertainment; you will be appalled, shocked, angered, and saddened. This may not be the best advert, but it’s a film that should be watched as a lesson in humanity, tolerance and compassion.
Joseph (Peter Mullen) is a rage-filled down-and-out; he drinks, gambles, has no job, antagonises and abuses any and all who cross his path – all in all a pretty destructive character, both physically and mentally. When he meets religious charity shop worker, Hannah (Olivia Coleman), he isn’t used to the level of understanding, patience and kindness that she shows him and proceeds to abuse her as he does everyone else. But Joseph keeps finding his way back to Hannah and slowly starts to let her change his life. However, Hannah has some dark secrets of her own, namely her abusive and sadistic husband James (Eddie Marsan), and she ends up needing Joseph just as much as he needs her.
The story, and Joseph’s in particular, is reasonably formulaic for the most part, although there are still plenty of shocks and surprises throughout that will raise eyebrows. Most of the character’s journeys are affecting, from Joseph’s to Hannah’s to Samuel’s, a young boy who’s one of the few to treat Joseph like a real human being, and you genuinely want them to find the happiness they strive for.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, Tyrannosaur is not an easy watch (the happiest scene in the film is a wake) and, at times, it can be a little too brutal. As is the speciality of British cinema, reality is clearly the order of the day, but Tyrannosaur is sometimes so bleak that it can actually detract from the reality of it all. Surely so many people’s lives couldn’t be that dysfunctional? Or maybe they could and that’s the really shocking thing.
Much of the acclaim for this film has focused on Olivia Coleman’s performance, and, quite simply, it deserves every accolade it gets. She delivers a performance so compelling, so gut-wrenching that it truly makes you glad you’re only watching a film; even the thought of anyone going through the ordeals she does is nothing short of frightening. Coleman’s portrayal of a woman pushed to her absolute limits is masterful, although her story threatens to completely overshadow that of Joseph’s. Or rather it would have done if Mullen had not delivered an equally impressive performance, his Joseph delicately straddling the line between psychopath and misunderstood. Like Michael Fassbender’s performance in Shame, it’s an absolute travesty that neither Coleman nor Mullen got an Oscar nod, especially considering the number of other awards the film and the actors have picked up.
Despite the film’s rather dark outlook, there is still plenty to cheer. Watching the the relationship between Joseph and Hannah develop is mesmerising as you never quite now if Joseph will slip back into old habits despite Hannah’s seemingly unwavering belief that he’s a good person at heart.
Tyrannosaur is a film that makes an impression, and if this is Considine’s first feature as a director, then any future forays behind the camera should generate a fair deal of attention.
Words: Chris Thomson