Review: Tyrannosaur (Sundance)
PLOT: Joseph (Peter Mullan) is one mean son of a bitch, and he knows it. All of his life, he's been prone to extremely violent temper tantrums, and the ensuing destructive episodes have left him nearly friendless, and with a deep sense of self-loathing. After a particularly vicious episode, he seeks solace in Hannah's (Olivia Colman) junk shop. Unlike most people he runs afoul of, she's not frightened by his behavior, with her sensing that deep down, Joseph's a more moral man than he thinks. Meanwhile, she's suffering horrific abuse by her cruel husband James (Eddie Marsan).
REVIEW: TYRANNOSAUR's opening scene threw me for a loop. We see Joseph come out of a pub, furious and drunk, while his faithful dog patiently waits to be taken home. In a fit that lasts a split second, Joseph kicks his beloved dog so fiercely that he breaks his ribs- leaving him near death. Immediately realizing what he's done, Joseph carries him home, but by the next morning the dog is dead, and Joseph hates himself more than ever.
I've got to hand it to Paddy Considine, a brilliant actor making his feature directorial debut; this is a ballsy way to start a film. A dog-lover myself, I felt like I'd been socked in the gut by the scene, but rather than hate Joseph, I pitied him. This whole episode is one of the saddest things I've seen depicted in a long while, and suffice to say, the mood does not get any lighter from there.
TYRANNOSAUR is a relentless grim film, but it also might be a brilliant one. As a character study, it's an incredibly fine piece of work. Anyone who's been lucky enough to see Peter Mullan's work in films like BOY A, and the RED RIDING TRILOGY, knows that he's one of the finest actors currently working, and Joseph feels like the role of a lifetime. The absolute rage he puts into Joseph is both terrifying, and incredibly sad, as even Joseph has no idea why he's so angry.
Throughout the film, it's revealed that Joseph was once married to a sweet-natured woman, who also happened to be obese- with him giving her the cruel nickname 'Tyrannosaur'. As he explains it, he both loved her and despised her, but Joseph's got enough of a soul to hate himself for being the bastard that he is. Once he meets Hannah, he makes an honest attempt to change. We know one thing for sure; he's not all bad. He has a warm, fatherly relationship with a young boy that lives next door with his neglectful mother and her abusive boyfriend, and we get the notion that he cares about the boy more than anyone else in his life.
Once he meets Hannah, he tries to curb his temper, and eventually she manages to soothe him somewhat, helping him escape his personal hell, while suffering through one of her own at home. When we're introduced to her husband, he urinates on her while she sleeps. We later have to suffer through a truly shocking rape scene. This is truly a brave role for Olivia Colman, as the things she has to suffer throughout the film are unspeakable, and Colman's performance strikes me as a searingly honest portrait of abuse. Toward the middle of the film, she goes on a drunken bender, which ends with her leaving a voice-mail for her husband pleading with him to stop hurting her. The absolute devastation, and terror she conveys is indescribable.
One thing's for certain; TYRANNOSAUR is not for all tastes. This is a profoundly depressing film at times, but in the end, it also proves to be a surprisingly hopeful one. If you have the stomach for it, TYRANNOSAUR is an intensely rewarding film to watch, and a brilliant directorial debut from Considine, with this reminding me a bit of his superlative work with Shane Meadows (DEAD MAN'S SHOES). It's a somber film, but also an important one and something that deserves to be seen.