SUNDANCE REVIEW: Peter Mullan's Audacious Performance Packs a Terrifying Intensity in 'Tyrannosaur'

Jack English
Propelled by performances full of scalding anger and pain, this is a shattering drama about surviving violence, even when it comes from within.

Actor-turned-director Paddy Considine's World Cinema Dramatic Competition film pulls no punches in its intense exploration of the corrosive effects of human violence.

PARK CITY – (World Cinema Dramatic Competition) Peter Mullan's directing projects have kept him offscreen for long stretches at a time, but this gruffly charismatic Scotsman gets perhaps his best role since Ken Loach's My Name is Joe, courtesy of another actor-turned-director, Paddy Considine.

Best known as the lead in Jim Sheridan's In America, Considine expanded Tyrannosaur from characters introduced in his 2007 short, Dog Altogether.

The film pulls no punches. It opens with a scene of such distressing ugliness -- drunken Joseph (Mullan) bristling with rage and spewing profanities before venting his fury on his dog – many audiences will want to tune out immediately. But this is an intense exploration of the corrosive effects of human violence. And its eventual glimmer of redemption is entirely earned, not artificial or consoling.

While Considine makes the interesting choice to contrast the tone with an unemphatic score of strumming guitars by Chris Baldwin and Dan Baker, Joseph's world is a place of cold bitterness.

His anger is always there, festering, causing brutal eruptions when triggered or surfacing as willful provocation. As he nurses his pint of lager at the pub, Joseph's sputtering outbursts seem as organic to the environment as the wallpaper.

After one of his more explosive episodes, he steps into a charity shop to calm down, weeping with anguish as volunteer worker Hannah (Olivia Colman) prays for him.

Their relationship evolves in unpredictable ways. After spitting Hannah's do-gooder Christian concern back in her face with a lacerating assessment that hits painful nerves, Joseph returns to apologize. She keeps him at a cautious distance, but agrees to accompany him to pray over a dying friend (Robin Butler). Cut from the same cloth as Joseph, the man is barely breathing but still seethes with hatred.

While Joseph derides Hannah's clean suburban neighborhood as a world away from the blue-collar Leeds council estate where he lives, her home life is no oasis. Her husband James (Eddie Marsan) is a different breed of self-loathing psychotic, brutalizing and humiliating Hannah between moments of sniveling contrition.

When Hannah starts sporting black eyes to work, Joseph doesn't buy her flimsy explanations. But when James' unfounded suspicions of her infidelity make him lose control, Hannah strikes back, turning to Joseph for shelter.

The grim drama is undeniably punishing, but Considine's screenplay laces in moments of warm human contact that puncture the harshness like delicate grace notes. Joseph's easy friendship with a neighbor's kid is particularly affecting, and a tearfully merry post-funeral pub booze-up provides a lovely release from all the anguish. Even the goofy chivalry Joseph's nutjob buddy (Ned Dennehy) shows toward Hannah is oddly touching.

Bleak as it is, the movie also knows how to use restraint. Erik Alexander Wilson's sober visuals don't overplay the usual grimy squalor of these settings, and there are poignant indications that Joseph has tried to maintain housekeeping standards set by his wife.

The film doesn't fetishize the violence, often keeping the worst of it offscreen. Instead it peels back psychological layers to consider where it's coming from. For Mullan's Joseph, it's rooted in a gnawing resentment whose target has become too amorphous to identify; a sense of shame over his cruel treatment of his late wife (the source of the title); and the bruising awareness that he would behave no differently were she still alive. "I'm not a nice human being," he says without self-pity.

James' vileness comes instead from cancerous insecurity. He's as pathetic as he is frightening in Marsan's chilling performance. Then there's the barbarian next door (Paul Popplewell) whose surly bluster and pure dumb aggression are a good match for his vicious pit bull.

The film makes it clear that whatever the cause, men living with this kind of rage are everywhere.

Known primarily as a comic actress in Britain, Colman is superb in this dramatic role, as convincing when showing compassion or fear as she is when pushed to her own breaking point. Hannah could hardly be more distant in nature from Joseph, yet the tentative bond between them is entirely credible, as they recognize and respond to the damage in one another.

Mullan's audacious performance packs a terrifying intensity, yet Joseph is a man with a moral center, albeit a distorted one. Watching him tremble while trying to contain his volcanic instincts is almost moving. And even in some of his darkest looks Joseph appears to be wondering if he could have been another kind of person.

That this enthralling drama never stoops to become a May-December romance or a too-tidy parable about healing is to its credit. But in Considine's confident hands and those of his tremendous actors, the emotional arc is rich and full, leaving us shaken and breathless before allowing a whisper of atonement.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Cast: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Ned Dennehy, Sally Carman, Samuel Bottomley, Paul Popplewell, Sian Breckin

Director-screenwriter: Paddy Considine
Production: Warp X, Inflammable Films for Film4, U.K. Film Council, in association with Screen Yorkshire, EM Media, Optimum Releasing
Producer: Diarmid Scrimshaw
Executive producers: Peter Carlton, Mark Herbert, Katherine Butler, Hugo Heppell, Suzanne Alizart, Will Clarke
Director of photography: Erik Alexander Wilson
Production designer: Simon Rogers
Music: Chris Baldwin, Dan Baker
Costume designer: Lance Milligan
Editor: Pia Di Ciaula
Sales: Protagonist Pictures, London
No rating, 93 minutes