Film Review – Tyrannosaur
Here is a way to know you’re watching a great film: every scene contains both an element of surprise and a sense of inevitability. Surprising a savvy audience that has seen every trick in the book is tough; doing it while following the rule of inevitability—but not predictability—is tougher. It’s master-level storytelling. It’s what fills every moment of Tyrannosaur, the new film from writer/director Paddy Considine.
In a tough opening scene that immediately breaks one of the unwritten rules of movies (I won’t give away what it is; the jarring moment is necessary), we are introduced to Joseph, played by Peter Mullan. Joseph struggles with anger. His outbursts are frightening and violent; his remorse afterward is real. He is unemployed and spends his days drinking at the pub. One day, he gets into a confrontation with three young men, but stops himself in the middle of things, running away. In a troubled state, he enters a Christian thrift store and meets the proprietor, Hannah (Olivia Coleman). She quickly takes a kind, cautious, but matter-of-fact attitude with him, offering prayers and sincerity. Joseph reacts with some of his standard aggression, but something else lurks beneath the interaction. Now that the two have met, the door is open to a deeper connection. And Joseph is not the only one of them in need of such potential connection in his life.
From there, the film follows the way that Joseph and Hannah each face their individual problems. With each other incorporated, the rhythms of daily life have tipped enough that the status quo cannot remain for either of them. I’m reluctant to say too much more about the plot, though this is not necessarily a film driven by its twists; I simply went into it not knowing much and found the experience of watching the dominoes fall so compelling that I want others to feel the same thing. What happens, though, is not easy or uplifting. Viewer be warned.
The work done by the actors here is across the board phenomenal. Mullan plays Joseph’s rage with skill, but also gives him depth and lets us empathize with him without ever manipulating that core. Eddie Marsen, who plays Hannah’s husband, nails many difficult scenes as the levels of their relationship are revealed. First-time child actor Samuel Bottomley, as a neighbor and friend to Joseph, is a pleasure to watch. And then there’s Olivia Coleman.
Coleman has already won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival (with Mullan) and was named Best Actress at the British Independent Film Awards. I will be shocked if she does not receive an Oscar nomination—if not a win—for this work. She’s perfect all the way through the film, but in the space of a couple of minutes in her penultimate scene, delivers a speech with such a display of stripped, raw, rushing emotion that it deserves some type of special award of its own. It’s a show of talent that must make other actors dig their fingernails into their palms in envy, capping off the kind of performance that makes the viewer hungry to see more. One glance at Coleman’s resume reveals a large body of varied work in Britain, but I hope that the talent she displays here moves her to permanent leading lady status on both sides of the pond.
As far as feature directorial debuts go, Considine’s effort here is among the most impressive I’ve ever seen. It’s taut storytelling about harsh, bleak circumstances, but is meant neither to shock the audience through unpleasantness nor drag its characters to lows in order to somehow inspire us with their strength. Many films about the down-and-out or the abused seem to be about the situation itself rather than the characters; while that is fine for certain purposes, Considine does not go down that road. One might be able to extrapolate larger messages, as is always possible from any story, but the film itself belongs to Joseph and Hannah. I crave this kind of storytelling.
Tyrannosaur opens today at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown. If you enjoy emotionally challenging films, you should definitely see it.
Final Grade: A