Actor Paddy Considine has been at his most powerful and frightening in the midlands dramas of Shane Meadows (A Room for Romeo Brass, Dead Man’s Shoes). The LA Film Fest presents his first film as director, Tyrannosaur, which adopts the same tone of inchoate anger and ups the grimness, taking us a bit further north to Leeds and a world of drab cul-de-sacs, old pubs and a perfectly rendered charity shop full of banal objects that barely register in the consciousness.

The greatest things about the film – and they are pretty great – are the performers. Peter Mullen is a really first-rate actor, his bullet head with an incredible spider’s web of lines around cold water-blue eyes; he excels at giving life, self-knowledge and just enough sensitivity to the hard-drinking, violent man he portrays, Joseph, and perfectly suggests a past of terrible mistakes and selfishness. Less widely lauded is Olivia Coleman whose turn in the excellent TV comedy Green Wing was the only one to suggest an actual person, and she gave her character in the likewise superb Peep Show a fine amount of modulation from daffy to hard-edged, with a superbly varied command of her chinless face and funny eyes. She plays Hannah here, a well-enough-to-do woman who works in a charity shop (hinted at, to fill her empty hours that have otherwise led to the bottle).

Again she first appears be a harmless mousy thing, but the character fills out – in a somewhat more satisfactory way than Mullen, even – as details of domestic abuse, religious conflict, regret and imprisonment reveal themselves: her husband is a smiling, vicious type whose actions, it is suggested, are perhaps not too different from those in Joseph’s past. Eddie Marsan quite stands up to the leads, always reliable and here excellent, his cartoon face turned into something grotesque by his cold and frightening eyes, also an icy blue: it’s a bit of a shame not to see more of him.

The film opens in declarative style, with fucking cunts and wankers and a can of lager in an alley. Joseph’s angry about something, beats the wall then kicks his dog. Then he’s very sad about it. It’s genuinely moving, but the effectiveness of this cycle is diminishing; these are the only two modes offered him by the script, and when he’s not being angry and beating people and things, he’s feeling sad that he wants to, or that he has done so in the past. There’s very little to be cheerful about in this film, save the tentative relationship that grows between Joseph and Hannah. It adheres in almost generic fashion to a familiar type of grim British film-making, as most notably practiced by Ken Loach; but if Mullen and the film evoke echoes of Loach’s My Name Is Joe, it is to Tyrannosaur’s disadvantage.

The framework is there, but Mullen is given disappointingly little to work with. Hints and suggestions are indeed all we get, of what he did to his dying best friend, or to his wife; Coleman is given the religious angle and the chance to pull off a tour-de-force eye-bawling confession of her husband’s insane cruelties, but Joseph bottles everything up. We never do quite understand, however, why it is she remains with her husband. And when a kid in Joseph’s choke-hold wails “I don’t know why you’re doing this” we cannot help but empathize.

So despite the hints, the film is not really about the past, but still wants to play with its ominous implications, in much the same way that Marsan’s fate is both signaled and then played as revelation. Likewise the title, which we find refers to Joseph’s ex-wife, also does double duty as an obvious label for Joseph without addressing the distinction between the two metaphorical meanings. Much of what unfolds feels inevitable in a generic rather than organic way, with elements – religion, for example – that remain underdeveloped; admirably aiming to avoid over-explanation, the film, a little like Mullen’s character, ends up lacking any meat beyond the performances, with the same frequent, needless gleam in its eye for (emotional) brutality.

All that said, Considine directs with quiet efficiency, and allows some neat moments to DP Erik Wilson, the best of which is a striking portrait reveal of Coleman doing a terrific words vs meaning piece over her sobbing husband. One of those films that’s good enough for you to wish it were more substantial.

Rating: 7.25/10

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