Dir. Paddy Considine. U.K. 2011.

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Although the contours of first-time director Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur are bleak and unforgiving, underneath the film's excess of anger lies what the poet Anne Sexton called so aptly "the awful rowing toward God.” This “rowing” is visible in the struggle of Joseph (Peter Mullen), an unemployed widower, to discover a spark of the humanity that lies beneath his outward expressions of rage. Like the 2004 film Dead Man's Shoes in which Considine gave what is arguably his best performance as an actor, Tyrannosaur is a work of unnerving intensity and brutal realism, yet, in spite of its intermittent violent acts, is a surprisingly quiet film that has moments of warmth and humor, especially in Joseph's interaction with a little boy that lives next door.

The poet Rumi says, “a rose's rarest essence lives in the thorn,” but at first all we can see is the thorn.

In the film's opening scene, we meet Joseph in a state of drunken rage kicking his dog to death (shown off camera) as Cinematographer Erik Wilson surrounds us with the grimness of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England. We do not learn specifically the source of Joseph's anger, but it is suggested that he feels guilty about how he treated his late wife. "I'm not a nice human being," he says matter-of-factly. Following a series of violent outbursts in which he shatters the window of an Indian clerk who had made a few critical remarks directed towards him, and an encounter with three young men at a pub that he berated for making too much noise, he wanders into a thrift shop run by Hannah (Olivia Colman), a kindly-looking clerk who, seeing his anguish, offers to pray for him.

Her reward, however, is a tirade against her religion, how she has escaped from facing the poor, and how meaningless it is for her to try and comfort him. Deeply hurt by this, she returns home only to be confronted by her abusive husband James (Eddie Marsan), a sick individual who preys on weaker, vulnerable people. Accusing her of infidelity he physically attacks her, causing visible bruises to her face. Hannah pretends to Joseph that her bruises are the result of a fall, but he knows from experience that there is more to her story. Accepting Joseph's apology for his previous rant, she turns to him for protection and agrees to go to the hospital with him and say a prayer for a friend (Robin Butler), who is near death.

This is not the start of a Hollywood-style romance in which everything neatly comes together at the end, but is only the beginning of the painful realization of two troubled souls that they need each other. Marked by exceptional performances by Peter Mullen (My Name is Joe) and by Olivia Colman, who was heretofore known only as a comic actress, Tyrannosaur is difficult to watch and emotionally draining, yet is about real people who slowly begin to discover a sense of their inner strength. While the film does not offer easy solutions, it allows us to discover, in the darkness of our own being, the power to face our demons, knowing that redemption does not lay in revenge, but only in acknowledging and taking responsibility for any of our actions that may have caused harm to others.

Howard Schumann

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