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Actor Paddy Considine’s debut feature Tyrannosaur is an extension of his short film Dog Altogether (2007) with Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman reprising their roles in this extended version.

Joseph (Mullan) is a man possessed of inexorable rage.  Staggering between violent intimidations, child-like antagonism, and drunken despair he is terrifying. When he meets Hannah (Colman) – an op-shop assistant with an abusive husband (Eddie Marsan), he is brought under her consoling influence.  As the bond strengthens, both Colman and Mullan’s accomplished tragic dimensions move you, uninterrupted, through Hannah and Joseph’s transforming circumstances.

The camera is rarely permitted to defer from Hannah and Joseph. It is their presence, their fears and pleasures that dynamically inform the narrative. It is more like a stage production but only a camera can properly capture the sensational tremors of Mullen’s brow or Colman’s brave and devastating smiles.

Considine seems apprehensive of the Christian significance of redemption. Hannah’s prayers are naive and her faith in Jesus is obviously her way of reckoning her devotion to a monstrous husband. Faith in God is essentially a faith in humanity, and the role of saviour is frequently substituted between she and Joseph as aspects of her home-life are revealed. In Hannah, Considine has succeeded with an equal female counterpart to Joseph, and not simply some reactionary love interest for a leading man – this is very refreshing but delivers some unsettling surprises.

 

Ned Dennehy is an excellent support as Tommy, Joseph’s drunkard crony. Filled with a similarly racist and infantile nature to his friend, he orchestrates a hate crime and muses dreams of opening a zoo within the same breath. Tommy’s crude charm belongs to a similar class of Brits portrayed in such films these days, and Considine rightfully keeps Tommy at a distance. This is not just another kitchen-sink drama from the bowels of England’s working-class. This film, like its characters, attempts to move out of its archetypal rut.

Shot in a very dreary Leeds, Tyrannosaur is an intimate look at the conflict of animalistic and moralistic reactions to the grievous circumstances that befall men and women – and very unfortunately, dogs. Handkerchiefs encouraged.

* a version of this post originally appeared at filmblerg.com

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