Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a man plagued by violence and a rage that is driving him to self-destruction. As his life spirals into turmoil a chance of redemption appears in the form of Hannah (Olivia Colman), a Christian charity shop worker. Their relationship develops to reveal that Hannah is hiding a secret of her own with devastating results on both of their lives.

Brit drama turns anger into poetry.

Joseph (Peter Mullan), one half of the damaged, tenuous pairing that comes to the fore in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, has two friends: Terry (Paul Conway) is wasting away in the house of his daughter, who lets Joseph in to visit but won’t speak to him, and his dog, who in the first scene of this uncompromising but elementally moving British drama he kicks to death in a fit of rage. Anger is all Joseph, an ageing widower, knows. It shapes his body, charges his voice, and wrests self-control from him. 'I don’t know why you’re doing this," pleads a young man Joseph backs up against a wall with a pool cue poised to strike, and neither does Joseph.

Paddy Considine’s debut feature traverses the same grim terrain of council estates and bleak pubs that he’s appeared in as an actor. This is the modern working class Britain that Ken Loach depicts for tragic pathos or that Shane Meadows upends with gallows humour, and the first time filmmaker brings a quiet intensity and dramatic realism to his movie. Considine calmly frames Joseph, allowing himself to reveal his many flaws, even as he rages at others and then, in spasms of guilt, himself.

Tyrannosaur does not make do with noble flaws or simple redemption. Joseph is a monster, goading others in the hope of confrontation, and when he can’t stand himself one day he walks into a Christian charity shop run by Hannah (Olivia Colman) and literally hides in the corner. His coruscating fury and her polite compassion are no match, and Joseph verbally demolishes her faith, leaving her in tears. If that suggests a starting point for a meeting of souls, Considine pursues more ambitious ground. Hannah’s defences crumble because she no longer truly believes: her tidy suburban home is a prison where her husband, James (Eddie Marsan), secretly degrades and abuses her.

Considine makes you yearn, as perhaps Hannah secretly does, for Joseph to take revenge on James, but easy options, or expected outcomes, don’t play in this milieu. Change is the focus here, and it’s a struggle for Joseph to put an end to his ways, especially with a group of dog-owning louts occupying his street and the house opposite. The deep horizontal lines in Mullan’s face tell you much about Joseph’s past, but when he gradually begins to speak to Hannah he’s coldly self-lacerating. He not only considers himself beyond hope, but likely to relapse into violence if he associates with her.

Hannah, by contrast, doesn’t know what the abuse is doing to her. An extended close-up on Olivia Colman’s face, as it turns repeatedly between forgiveness and vengeance as James lies crying in her lap in one of his periodic bouts of contrition, proves to be unnerving and compelling; this is a life up for grabs and an actor giving a performance of rare nuance. Considine surrounds them with an authentic sense of people and place – the one celebratory moment is a wake in a pub, and Considine knows how to write for minor characters, such as Joseph’s scarecrow-like acquaintance Tommy (Ned Dennehy), so that they become rounded parts.

The genre is social realism, looking at a cross-section of damaged lives, but Tyrannosaur has an austere emotional poetry that underpins the violence and transforms it into something rare but enduring. By the final scene you’ll know why Paddy Considine is doing this.

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1 hour 31 min
In Cinemas 23 February 2012,
Wed, 05/16/2012 - 11