Paddy Considine’s 2007 Dog Altogether was one of the shorts of the season, winning the Venice Silver Lion, a BAFTA and a BIFA for the Best Short Film. Tyrannosaur is its feature length offspring; a film about inherent violence and its rebounded effects. Considine said of Dog Altogether that his intention was to get the audience to sympathise with a monster, and Tyrannosaur expands on that premise, fleshing out the story of the original two protagonists.
Taken at face value, it’s as bleak as can be; Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth immediately springs to mind. Joseph (Peter Mullan), a widower, is a slave to his anger. Blindly seeking sanctuary from his world of rage, he stumbles into the life of Hannah (Olivia Colman) – a woman seemingly held together by her Christian faith – through the door of the charity shop where she works. She is kind to Joseph, makes him a cup of tea and shows concern, and says she’ll pray for Joseph. In return he has nothing but contempt and spite for her generosity. The repulsion is all Joseph’s but he is drawn to the unconditional kindness and gradually begins to open up to Hannah, she helping him through the death of a friend. As Hannah’s friendship guides Joseph to a better personal understanding of himself, Hannah’s life begins to fall apart, and Joseph finds himself confronted with feelings of responsibility.
Joseph’s role is tailor made for Mullan (think of Swanney in Trainspotting or Joe in My Name is Joe), a man eaten away by his own anger to almost nothing but snarling viciousness. Colman’s performance is remarkable, and the stand out of the two, though not simply because she is best known as Sophie in the Channel 4 comedy, Peep Show. Over the course of the film Hannah’s visage of calm compassion weathers away like chalk, the shit her abusive husband gives her gradually chipping away at her charity-shop volunteer façade. As her story comes to a conclusion, there is a climactic scene in which her world finally collapses into a distraught, devastated release of a paradoxical freedom. It’s a fantastically powerful, painful moment and worthy of recognition.
Considine succeeds in presenting a beautiful monster, and it’s the little flashes of humanity and compassion, in small gestures, that balance the bleak reality of the characters’ lives. As the film progresses, the love buried under years of anger is delicately teased from Joseph’s character through Mullan’s acting and Considine’s direction. Coming home or leaving, Joseph invariably passes Sam (played by Samuel Bottomley), a neighbour’s little boy seemingly permanently evicted from his own home to ‘play outside,’ whilst his mum’s cruel boyfriend visits with his snarling Staffordshire bull terrier. The concern and respect they show one another despite the staccato form their contact exists in is built slowly for the spectator, deepening with every meeting, conveyed subtly in a simple, “What you up to?” or a silent moment of eye contact. The humanity glows in each scene they share.
Where Tyrannosaur begins to feel false is in the forced attempts to show the humanity of the characters. After the funeral of Joseph’s close friend, for example, the wake scene bears the heavy handed prescription of a set piece. The tense relationship Joseph evidently had with the dead man’s daughter slowly subsides under alcohol and merriment. Songs are sung, things said in honour of the newly departed and a kind of dreamy montage stretches to timelessness, a snapshot of working class authenticity; but it’s a cliché. The common joy that builds as the mourners celebrate life through death is simply too predictable. The soundtrack must take responsibility for this too. At times it is overbearing, too leading in its lack of subtlety and clumsy lyrics. The original music is by Dan Baker and Chris Baldwin, both guitarists in Riding the Low, a band fronted by Considine.
The opening sequence is enough on its own for one to get excited about the future of Considine as a director, though. The film opens with Joseph, can of Red Stripe in hand, shouting abuse through the doorway of a pub he is leaving, drunk and livid, his dog tied up outside. A parallel montage sequence begins between this scene and another in which he sits on the edge of a bed thumping his own head with the handle of a shovel like a slow metronome, the actions of the past (née present) echoing with the actions of the present (née future) and vice versa; the sound, image and edit marry in a rhythm that bridges the presented temporal dichotomy of the action/consequence of kicking your own dog to death. Considine is capable of capturing the minutiae of introspective human emotion to reveal a tragic beauty.
Tyrannosaur is in cinemas from Friday 7 October.