★★★★ / ★★★★
A man leaves a bar so angry, he ends up kicking his dog dead. After a sharp yelp and its body lie limp on the ground, Joseph (Peter Mullan) realizes what he has done, picks up his friend’s carcass, and takes it home. The next day, he gets involved in a pub brawl with three young men playing pool. The first ends up unconscious, the second manages to escape, and the third cowering in fear. Horrified with what he has just done, Joseph leaves the pub and goes into a shop run by Hannah (Olivia Colman). Sensing that the man before her is deeply troubled, she asks if it is all right for her to pray to God for him.
“Tyrannosaur,” written and directed by Paddy Considine, is about a constant battle with inner demons but the demons are not explained, only observed. Coupled with intense and calculated performances by Mullan and Colman, the human afflictions are unveiled with poetry and their consequences with realism.
It is almost as if Mullan intends to play Joseph as straddling the line between sanity and insanity. The suggestion as well as the actual acts of violence are ugly to imagine and look at, but the camera has the tendency to linger on the central character’s reaction once an action has been taken. The way he is jolted into awareness after it is too late to undo a deed is similar to that of someone who has snapped out of a hypnosis or trance.
As the capacity for evil is found in all of us, so is Joseph’s capacity to do good, as recognized by Hannah. Although Hannah is a Christian, Colman makes the smart decision to play her as someone who hangs onto her religion almost as a source of escape. Her life at home, especially when her husband, James (Eddie Marsan), comes in after a day’s work, is most abusive. Images where we are witness to Hannah being humiliated and functioning as a punching bag are nothing short devastating. Still, Colman plays Hannah with a sort of sick dignity afterwards, coming to work the next day covered in bruises as if they were badges of honor, proof to herself (and maybe others, too), that she is strong because she has endured.
Living a life in fear is a life not truly lived is its most powerful recurring theme. There is Hannah and her violent husband, a neighborhood kid and his mother’s boyfriend’s dog, Joseph and his thoughts about his life amounting to nothing more than anger that spills and floods, and Joseph’s dying best friend who is afraid that he will die knowing that his own daughter hates him. Each strand is not given equal time but they are allowed to mature, sometimes in the most surprising rate. It does not feel like observing events in a film but that of lives which happen to be captured on celluloid.
It avoids a romantic relationship between Joseph and Hannah, appropriate because there is nothing romantic about the issues the picture tackles. Instead, Joseph tells Hannah about his deceased wife, how he called her “Tyrannosaur” because she was a big lady, citing a scene in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” prior to the cloned carnivore attacking the children. But I think a Tyrannosaur is also a metaphor for a bully, like the neighborhood dog and James. Most importantly, Joseph, too, is a Tyrannosaur, rampaging and causing destruction wherever he goes. Perhaps it is in his nature.