Searing British drama Tyrannosaur, which caused quite a splash at Sundance and has been turning heads at festivals ever since, is the writing-directing feature debut of actor Paddy Considine, but you’d have no idea just from looking; this marvellously-directed, beautifully acted film is among the best dramas of the year, and with its unforgiving, unsentimental edge, is unlikely to find an equal in the visceral stakes by year’s end.
The film’s opening scene, in which disgruntled, unemployed loner Joseph (Peter Mullan) kicks his own dog to death, sets a deeply discomfiting tone fron the set, epitomising Joe’s rage with just about everything in life; himself, other people, and as it seems, any innocent creature in between. Tyrannosaur is a brutal film framed by extreme and unnecessary bouts of violence at both ends, as Joe tries to come to terms with his own savage nature, while in religious charity shopkeeper Hannah (Olivia Colman), he recognises an opportunity to make ammends by helping her deal with her abusive husband, James (Eddie Marsan).
Plot doesn’t figure too heavily in Tyrannosaur, and indeed, the film is more concerned, quite rightly, with its characters. It’s about three people who cannot find ways to deal with their problems as their respective nets pull inexorably closer; Joseph is angry at a world that took his wife away, Hannah can no longer stomach her abuse, and James is frustrated at his crumbling, inoperable marriage. The focus draws specifically upon Hannah and Joseph for the most part, depicting them as two sides of the same coin – him being explosive, she implosive – a dynamic which slowly begins to change with subtle dramatic inflexions, leading to a genuinely surprising but grounded and emotionally authentic, cathartic climax.
If there’s anything to distract from the incredibly difficult and upsetting places this film visits, it’s the stupendously good performances from the trio of leads, particularly, as they are the focus, Mullan and Colman. Mullan is imbued with the very same intensity he has perfected from his early work with Ken Loach right down to his role as the fuming father in last year’s N.E.D.S., albeit portraying a character here likely more complicated than any he has tackled before, torn painstakingly between two equally challenging paths. Mullan is up to the task with immeasurable prowess as is to be expected, for if we take away the violence from Joseph, we are left with an occasionally charming, wryly witty man, and this is all down to Mullan’s meticulously detailed portrayal.
The film’s real surprise and its true talking point, however, is Olivia Colman, who will with this role prove herself to be not simply a darling of British comedy, but a first-rate, world-class actress all in her own right, interpreting her character’s volatile arc with a devastating array of emotion, heart and sympathy. Somewhere, someone needs to draw up a Best Actress Oscar campaign for her right now, because it’s difficult to imagine a more emotionally challenging or wrenching performance coming our way.
With its grim finale it certainly touches base with the danger zone of being simply too miserable for its own good, but there is a sense – albeit a forlorn and distant one – of hope in the closing moments. Considine’s triumph is that none of it ever feels disingenous; any emotion felt is well-earned through a tougher dramatic road than just about any other film this year thus far. Few would have anticipated it, but Considine’s own diversity as a comic and dramatic performer makes him the perfect conduit through which to channel a disarming narrative such as this; he effortlessly tackles his subject with Herculean strength and considerate sensitivity.
This is not a pleasant film, nor one you will probably want to watch again anytime soon. But the volcanic, award-worthy performances from Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman make it an absolute must see.