Widower Joseph (Mullan) is given to fits of uncontrollable rage. Ducking into a charity shop, he meets Hannah (Colman), who offers to pray for him. Though hostile, Joseph comes to see that Hannah has her own problems. Fleeing her abusive husband (Marsan), Hannah takes refuge with Joseph but the consequences of violence linger.
This feature-length expansion of Paddy Considine’s debut short film from 2007, Dog Altogether, opens with angry, unemployed hard man Joseph (Peter Mullan) kicking his own dog to death. Horrible as the act is, we realise it’s Joseph’s desperate attempt to cope with rages he would once have taken out on human beings. Throughout, Joseph does violence to inanimate objects — smashing the window of a post office/corner shop he’s been asked not to come back to, taking a sledgehammer to his own useless garden shed — as a way of not hurting people. Even diving between coat racks in a charity shop to tremble with wrath is a positive step forward for Joseph, after an implied lifetime of alienating everyone around him.
The absence in the film is Joseph’s dead wife, nicknamed Tyrannosaur (after Jurassic Park) because she was so heavy, teacups trembled when she came downstairs — though it seems as likely he is himself the roaring, doomed-to-extinction prehistoric monster on this council estate. We dread a lapse into his former violence which seems inevitable, not knowing whether he’ll take it out on an innocent, like the kindly, troubled charity shop woman Hannah (Olivia Colman), or the bright young neighbour lad excluded from his own home, or the guilty, like Hannah’s horrifyingly chilly husband (Eddie Marsan), or the pit-bull-wielding, shirtless lout who lives opposite...
There’s a thesis to be written on why British actors-turned-director are drawn to domestic monsters (cf: Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth, Tim Roth’s The War Zone, even Peter Mullan’s Orphans), but Considine takes an unusual tack. This is a grim, credible portrait of long-term psychological damage, but it’s also about a man struggling desperately not to be the bastard he���s been all his life (Mullan is extraordinary, every bit as strong as he was as another Joseph in My Name Is Joe). Joseph takes to hiding from his worst instincts, while Hannah (Peep Show’s Colman, in what feels like a career-making performance) clings to her own goodness in the face of appalling abuse.
There’s a late-in-the-film twist that’s a genuine shock, yet rooted deeply in the characters. Some will argue about the plausibility of a few dog-related plot points in the last act, but the home stretch is undeniably powerful.
A great deal more than a misery memoir on film, this character study is as gripping as any hardboiled thriller, delivering emotional content thatll stay with you for a long time. Highly recommended.