The brutality of Tyrannosaur, actor Paddy Considine’s kitchen-sink directorial debut, isn’t so over the top as to make the filmmaker’s sympathy for his flawed characters look like a sham. But it does frequently bring his film’s seesawing exploration of blue-collar existence to the brink of collapse. Tyrannosaur is the latest character study of a very angry working-class Brit, but Considine’s film sets itself apart from other such dramas in the way it shows how Joseph (Peter Mullan) really can’t help himself. No matter how many times he tries to stop himself from exploding into fits of rage, Joseph will eventually blow up, a sad fact that’s meant to seem more truthful than insisting that he can completely change his ways. Considine goes to such great lengths to sensationalize his unlovable protagonist’s myriad acts of violence that it’s almost impossible to take Joseph seriously.
We first meet Joseph after he kicks his dog to death. This brutal introduction succinctly meets Considine’s goal of flabbergasting his audience right out of the gate—and then some. Still, it’s hard to accept that this kind of doctrinaire this-is-how-it-is matter-of-factness. Tyrannosaur‘s opening salvo gracelessly informs us that the film’s over-the-top violence is just a regular facet of Joseph’s life, but it also tells us that Considine isn’t beneath treating his character like a side-show attraction before the director invests some level of humanity in him.
Joseph isn’t the kind of guy that Considine wants us to feel comfortable liking. He’s damaged goods, to say the least, and is only able to make friends with Hannah (Olivia Colman) after he has a nervous breakdown inside her thrift shop. Joseph and Hannah hit it off because they’re both resentful that they can’t help themselves beyond a point. Hannah can’t break away from her manic husband, James (Eddie Marsan), who at one point pisses on her when he comes home drunk and inevitably rapes her. And Joseph can’t stop himself from wanting to beat almost everyone he meets to a pulp, from homophobic young pub denizens to the Pakistanis that cash his checks. As a pair of hopeless cases, Hannah and Joseph are a match made in miserablist heaven.
The most troubling aspect of Considine’s proudly vicious representations of violence in Tyrannosaur is that they’re oddly effective in bits and spurts. Familiar acts of domestic abuse, like the beating of the dog or drunken confrontations between Hannah and James, are made successfully alien thanks to their heightened intensity. There is, in other words, an undeniable heft, a kind of punishing albeit thoroughly manipulative and excessive kind of effectiveness to some of these otherwise gratuitous bloodlettings, though usually not the ones involving Joseph’s kid neighbor, Samuel (Samuel Bottomley), and the pitbull that Samuel’s father-in-law keeps on a chain around his waist. Any violence surrounding Samuel’s character is an unwelcome reminder of the basically cheap nature of Considine’s melodrama.
Then again, Tyrannosaur would still be crude even if Joseph didn’t lay a finger on a single other living creature. The one time he gets to have a single unmarred moment of happiness is just as overblown as the grotesquely bleak way he’s introduced to us. After attending a funeral for his best friend, Joseph and Hannah celebrate with his friend’s daughter at a pub while music plays and their looks of somewhat inebriated exultation speak more for them than any dialogue could. In this moment, they’re unreservedly happy just drinking and being together. We don’t know this because Considine organically establishes that fact through dialogue or even body language. Instead, we know this because Considine uses a montage to show us characters pantomiming that they’re happy while upbeat music plays, providing a neat, uncomplicated bridge between heavier scenes. Both in this happy pub scene and any of the film’s scenes of violence, Considine’s impatience prevents his characters from achieving the kind of emotional complexity that he’d like us to think his film has in spades.