Within the first thirty-five minutes of Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, the main man Joseph (Peter Mullan) kills his dog, buries his dog, picks a fight with Pakistanis, stumbles into a charity shop to give its clerk Hannah (Olivia Colman) a hard time about her Christianity, and demolishes a shed with a sledgehammer, leading to his almost-equally-volatile neighbor almost turning his attack dog on him. The film runs only eighty-nine minutes, with credits, so Joseph’s rampaging encompasses roughly its first half.
Why, you may well ask, should we care about such a person? The answer lies in quieter moments amongst the council estate carnage. Considine shows us a man whose devastating pain left his emotional mid-range in rags. He sits, contemplating, and with unpleasant stimuli his contemplation turns to contempt, and swiftly–you can almost see it rising in the thermometer of his body–to fury. Thanks to Considine’s script, and Mullen’s adroitly controlled performance, the internal ruin becomes palpable.
Violence also becomes, to Joseph, a means of communication. Never a good means, never a healthy means, never an excusable means. But perhaps an explainable means. The people around him mean well with their souls, but they don’t use words a great deal better than he does, although with the exception of Hannah’s abusive husband James (Eddie Marsan), they control themselves. Considine hints that Joseph sees a great deal of himself in James. That self-realizing revulsion takes Joseph even lower than before. But it could also inspire him to turn around.
Heavy UK accents make much of Tyrannosaur’s talk hard to understand; subtitles might have helped. Fortunately, Considine constructs the film as essentially visual–a back-to-classic approach based on brilliant silent directors such as F.W. Murnau. You do not need to know exactly what’s being said, to follow the relations between the principals. Joseph keeps no one close to him except one close, equally-hard-drinking friend. The only other person he cares for lies dying in a bed. He comes close to Hannah then pushes her away, not romantically, not sexually, but because he cannot tolerate the anguish of allowing another person in his life he might end up losing.
We also learn over time, how Joseph’s smarter than he likes people to think he is. He must have learned long ago, in a world where formal education is suspected at best, slagged at worst, to keep his mind under wraps, to reach for another pint of bitter, to banter, to fit in. Calamity forces his hand, disrupts his defenses. He scourges Hannah’s belief in Jesus and charity and goodness and kindness, because he finds no way to bring them inside himself; they must remain sour grapes. His struggle to change, and the sea changes in the others around him, propel a compelling narrative.