PRODUCER: DIARMID SCRIMSHAW
Joseph (Peter Mullins) is languishing in the later years of his life in a state of constant primal anger, which he can only escape through alcohol and random acts of violence. Around him, he watches his close friends dying and his community collapsing under social neglect and dispassion. Hope arrives for Joseph in the form of Hannah (Olivia Coleman), a Christian charity shop worker who attempts to reach him with compassion, but as their friendship develops, Joseph discovers Hannah’s own demons, and as their worlds crumble around them, they grip on to each other to stay above water.
Nothing about Considine’s approach to the material, or even his screenplay, is extraordinary or groundbreaking. This isn’t a negative, though. In a wise move, he keeps everything very simple, the camera fluid and the narrative moving forward at an agreeable pace. We’ve seen the likes of ‘Tyrannosaur’ before - similar characters and situations - but a few welcome surprises in the final act help to keep it from disappearing into the ever-thickening cloud of British realism.
The centrepieces of the film are the performances from Peter Mullins and Olivia Coleman. Mullins has been filling the background of films for years now, from ‘Children of Men’ to the Harry Potter series. Here, we find him deservedly taking centre stage, and demonstrating his incredible skills as a dramatic and physically ferocious actor. Joseph is a powerhouse performance, full of tremendous fury and shattering pathos. There are moments where he blurs the line between the animal and the human, highlighting the primal drives that seem to be all that is left in this broken and hopeless man. Just as impressive, and even more surprising, is Olivia Coleman as Hannah. Coleman is a staple of British comedy, but her performance here demonstrates her remarkable skill with very serious and often disturbing material. Hannah is the truly tortured character, the real tragedy at the heart of ‘Tyrannosaur’, a mild and good-hearted woman trapped in a brutally abusive relationship. Also worth mentioning is Eddie Marsan, who, as her husband James, is unbridled monster, Joseph without the sense of moral justice, and his abuse of Hannah is, in the end, a far more engaging and chilling narrative arch than that of Joseph. The film belongs to Peter Mullins, without doubt, and this is a groundbreaking performance from him, but the one you will talk about is Coleman’s, and by the climax of the film, even Mullins knows to step back and let her shine. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for both of them.
For all its successes though, ‘Tyrannosaur’ is, in some respects, a wholly unsatisfying film. So much is hard and cruel, yet very little light ever shines in. It begins with Joseph cruelly killing his dog in a drunken act of stupid violence, and it only continues to go downhill from there. Rather than offering the possibility of hope and humanity in this little slice of the world, ultimately we are offered only more heartache and pain, albeit with some vigilante justice thrown in. Don’t expect to feel good after ‘Tyrannosaur’, and perhaps you’ll find something to enjoy. It certainly is a strong debut for Considine as a director, with much promise for the future, and worth seeing for Mullins and Coleman, but we’ve seen this kind of British urban violence before, and ‘Tyrannosaur’ ultimately has little new to say on the subject to make it truly noteworthy.