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Review: Tyrannosaur (2011)

Director: | 91 minutes | | Actors: , Olivia Colman, , , , Samuel Bottomley, , Sian Breckin, , Lee Rufford, , , , Fiona Carnegie, , , , Jag Sanghera,

‘Tyrannosaur’ makes no bones about the first encounter with protagonist Joseph ( Mullan). In the first scene, he argues with a fellow adolescent and kicks his dog to death in frustration; in scene two he buries his dog; in the third he throws in a shop window; in the fourth he brawls with pooling youngsters. Nice to meet you, Joseph.

A possible turnaround comes when he flees into a thrift store run by the devout Hannah (Olivia Colman). In everything she seems to be Joseph’s opposite: gentle, religious, neat middle class. Nevertheless, it soon turns out that the childless Hannah takes care of the untamed tomboy, who does not like her Christian standards and mood. He makes this clear in revealing terms, but somehow she must have struck a chord given the fact that he keeps returning to her shop.

Still, Hannah’s world of experience is not overly distant from Joseph’s. Her husband, James (Eddie Marsan), at first appears to be a somewhat wimpy, boring middle-class houseman with an office job, but over time shows a more and more dark side that even Joseph shrinks from. The (bitter) irony is complete when Hannah calls out that she is safer with Joseph than with her own husband. Joseph, in turn, finds comfort in her when a close friend is dying; he even makes her pray for the man.

The story is not very different from the kitchen sink theme that we have already encountered in so many British films: failed marriages, frustrations of the underclass, drunken bickering in pubs and very aggressive men. Yet ‘Tyrannosaur’ works perfectly and you are immediately drawn into the experience world. This is mainly due to the two main characters. Joseph soon turns out to be a man who often has no control over himself, but of course this rough shell still has a white kernel hidden in him. Slowly his failures and frustrations are revealed. Yet you remain in suspense throughout the film: when will it go wrong again? Peter Mullan plays Joseph uniquely, with the deep growl, grim look and the hesitant, at best passive aggressive polar bears when he has to count to ten again. Joseph is the walking suspense. Hannah faces this with less aggression, but all the more moving as a woman in a hopeless and worthless marriage, childless and with a long-overdue biological clock. Then suddenly Jesus offers damn little comfort, she finally realizes. Colman manages to compete with the primal power that Peter Mullan is in this film; the multiple scenes with only these two in the picture are beautiful.

That in itself is more than worthy of the sight, but ‘Tyrannosaur’ also offers some nice, layered themes. The recurring role for several dogs is particularly interesting: they both mirror and counterbalance Joseph’s moods. It is therefore not surprising that quite a few frictions arise between humans and animals in the face of so much barely tamed excitement. The only flaws of the film are the occasional sluggish and the curious fact that no form of violence seems to get any attention from the police. Overall, however, ‘Tyrannosaur’ is a very impressive movie that – in a good way – makes you very quiet.

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