The gritty British drama Tyrannosaur opens with a scene in which the drunken Jacob (Peter Mullan), in a fit of rage, kicks his dog to death. And he's supposed to be the most likable of all the men who trample through this film's lower-class Leeds setting.
Just as Gary Oldman made his writing and directing debuts with a movie about miserable Brits (1997's Nil By Mouth), so too does Paddy Considine. The accomplished actor (My Summer of Love, In America) has ducked behind the camera to fashion a brutal tale in which Jacob, who's more likely to punch a person than smile at them, finally meets someone he can marginally stand. That would be Hannah (Olivia Colman), a meek Christian whose husband James (Eddie Marsan) almost makes Jacob look like Atticus Finch by comparison. When we first meet James, he's drunk and urinating on his wife's back as she sleeps on the couch. Such abhorrent behavior from her grotesque spouse makes it easier to understand why Hannah doesn't back away from Jacob but instead decides to pray for him. Despite Hannah's faith, this isn't exactly a match made in Heaven: Jacob initially treats her poorly as well, but over time, the pair begin to enjoy a friendship that, in its best moments, brings a ray or two of sunshine into their lives.
There's more to the film — more decent characters suffering horrible fates, more despicable neighborhood thugs begging for a painful comeuppance, and more miseries to be doled out to everyone unfortunate enough to have been born under Considine's pen. Clearly, Tyrannosaur won't have viewers exiting the screening with a song in their heart (unless that song is maybe "Ave Satani"), but the film is impeccably crafted, with sterling performances by all three leads. Those angling for a "feel-bad" bummer won't be disappointed.
(Tyrannosaur will be screened at 7:30 p.m. April 19-21 at The Light Factory, 345 N. College St. Admission is $7. Full details at www.lightfactory.org.)
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