Joseph is a pretty unlikable guy right from his first appearance. He gets furious because he has just lost a bet on some horse race, and then, his seething temper explodes and he savagely kicks his poor dog in its chest. He instantly comes to regret about his impulsive violence, but the water has already been split, and he becomes more miserable than before.
“Tyrannosaur”, an impressive debut work by the actor Paddy Considine, has little excuse or explanation for what kind of a man Joseph is, but, like other good gritty character studies about aggressive working-class protagonists, it makes us understand an unpleasant man and the gloomy world he inhabits in. Though not many things are changed at the end of story, there is a small dose of hope in the bleakness, and that makes a notable difference in the shabby life of a man who finally starts seeing what’s wrong with him through the incidental connection with a stranger.
It comes to him when Joseph(Peter Mullan) happens to hide in the shop owned by a middle-aged woman named Hannah(Olivia Colman) after making another violent burst of his temper. Their encounter is brief, but he comes to her shop again. Their initial interaction is rocky mainly due to Joseph’s hostile reaction to Hannah’s kindness motivated by her Christian belief, but he apologizes to her for his rudeness when he sees he hurts her sincere feeling, and they soon get a little close to each other.
The movie conveys their respective needs for each other to us while never emphasizing them. Joe has lived alone at home since his wife passed away, and now he becomes lonelier than before after he killed his dog. He has been acquainted with a boy living across the street, but they are more or less than neighbours, and Joseph is not of much help to that boy when he is in difficulty. Hannah lives in a more affluent environment, but her barren daily life always starts with torment thanks to her alcoholic husband James(Eddie Marssan) and their loveless marriage. Joseph is abrasive at times, but he is at least nice to her unlike her husband, who has lots of suspicion on what his wife does outside when he is absent.
So it is natural that Joseph and Hannah form the relationship between them while recognizing the weary loneliness from each other. They feel a little better than usual when they are together. When they spend the time with other people at the bar after the funeral of Joseph’s close friend, their faces are relatively brightened up, and it seems possible that they will help each other a lot through their budding relationship.
The director/writer Paddy Considine has been known to us mainly through his good performances in several films including “In America”(2003), “Cinderella Man”(2005), and “The Bourne Ultimatum”(2007). With this movie, Considine shows that he is also a competent director. The depressing tone shrouding the daily life of his characters is well-maintained, and we can sense the harshness and cruelty generated inside this environment through not only Joseph but also the other people stuck in this world. Joseph seems to like a boy living across the street, but he only observes the cruelties inflicted on that boy by his mom’s bullying boyfriend. I wonder if Joseph was not so different from that guy when he was younger; he later confides to Hannah that he was not good to his deceased wife in spite of her love toward him.
Because he is a good actor, Considine knows well about how to pull the good performances from his actors, and they do give good performances for this film. I came to recognize Peter Mullan for the first time as the husband of Tilda Swinton’s character in “Young Adam”(2003), and then I began to see him as one of the dependable British actors you can count on. Here in this film, he is terrific as a man with explosive temper and lots of bitter regret, and he never loses the edges of his character while subtly expressing the small transformation inside his character. His gritty performance reminds me of another hostile protagonist in South Korean film “Breathless”(2009). Both characters are very violent men, but they learn about themselves in their limits through other people surrounding them, and they try to find a way out of their misery, although there is always a harsh reality in front of them.
On the opposite, Olivia Coleman is equally wonderful as a battered woman struggling through a difficult life. Though her religion seems to be helpful to some degrees, Hannah keeps being frustrated about her life while becoming an alcoholic just like her husband. Through the relationship with Joseph, she gets the chance to be happy for a while, and her bruised but brightened face is one of few warm spots in the film. Eddie Marsan is good as an abusive husband and a flawed, self-loathing human being, and his scenes with Coleman are both intense and human. Like many abusive husbands, James later begs for forgiveness pathetically to her when he gets relatively sober, and then, with alcohol, he becomes a horrible abuser with jealousy again as usual.
“Tyrannosaur” is a bleak but touching drama about how two lonely people can connect with and help each other in spite of their respective problems. I do not think Joseph becomes a changed man, but I think he really learns something about himself and his hopeless world. He is still a man capable of brutal violence, but at least what he commits near the ending is not as impulsive as killing his dog. In this case, he does what he *thinks* it is necessary to do. That’s a progress, isn’t it?