Peter Mullen’s Joseph is an angry old man. He spends daytimes sitting at the bar of one of those pubs that as soon as you walk in, you walk straight back out; he goads, antagonises and terrorises local shopkeepers; and, with a can of Red Stripe in his hand, his screams and swears violently in the street outside a bookies. And that’s all just in the first few minutes.
The film begins with that scene of him coming out of a bookmakers, where he goes on to take his anger out on his dog, with the kind of treatment shown to man’s best friend last seen on the big screen in Snowtown, another dark film from 2011. It is an opening scene that makes clear Joseph has a problem with friends, and is intercut with footage of him brooding on the edge of his bed, baseball bat in hand, trying to contain a rage deep inside of him.
It’s an opening that was part of Director Paddy Considine’s first short Dog Altogether which in an entertaining Q&A after the showing of Tyrannosaur at the Prince Charles Cinema last night, Considine revealed he wrote in a few hours. Joseph, seeking refuge from his troubles in a charity shop which is within a parade not dissimilar to the one in A Room for Romeo Brass, the Shane Meadows film where Considine made his first feature length film appearance. And it’s from here the story grows into the captivating film.
In the short, Olivia Colman played the person running the shop where Joseph takes shelter. In Tyrannosaur her character Hannah prays for Joseph, but as the story develops, we realise Hannah needs Joseph as much as he needs her. It is a stunning performance by Colman, so familiar to millions from British Television Comedy-Drama including Green Wing, Love Soup, Peep Show and Rev, and justification of perfect casting by Considine, who explained afterwards how he was instantly drawn towards her in a random brief meeting when they were rehearsing for Hot Fuzz, as Joseph is drawn towards Hannah.
The violence and aggressiveness of Joseph is soon overshadowed by two other separate, nasty characters. Eddie Masden takes the angry middle-aged man he played in Happy Go Lucky to another level, while across the road from Joseph is a neighbour from hell, who bullies children and uses his dog as his weapon. The underlying feeling as the film begins to unfold is that Joseph may become a hero, rising from his own barely concealed hatred of society and from his racist friends, into a vigilante saviour, but it is credit to Considine’s skills that the plot is not that linear.
As well as being an excellent character piece and an authentic tale of isolation, dark souls, violence and control, Tyrannosaur excels further due to the storytelling. It builds fear and has surprises; there are moments of comedy that try to give a glimpse of light in a bleak film; and while being satisfyingly complete as a story, it doesn’t kop out on the consequences of its characters’ actions. Like Gary Oldman and Tim Roth at the end of the nineties, Tyrannosaur is a directorial debut by a great actor that tackles abuse behind closed doors. And it is Considine’s experience as an actor that undoubtedly bring out brilliant and memorable performances by the whole cast.
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