British writer/director Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur is a kitchen sink drama of the scungy and hard-hitting ilk, bookended by scenes in which its devil-may-care protagonist Joseph (Peter Mullan) murders a dog. S’prise s’prise, turns out he’s the emotionally unhinged glass is half empty type.

Joseph’s anger and disdain finds potential redemption through his relationship with Christian charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Colman). In the tradition of Guys and Dolls, he becomes a changed man, but the slow curve to redemption this time around is long, bleak and bereft of musical numbers.

It’s a familiar set up: a woebegone thug for which the audience have little empathy mingles with a better, purer person and is improved by proxy. But while Hannah is a decent and amiable woman she is damaged goods, victim to particularly vicious plotting. Her husband beats her and urinates on her. Nobody seems to think she’s worth a damn.

Squinting through two inches of battered make-up, Olivia Colman tries admirably to puncture a hole for her character’s soul to shine through, but like the rest of the cast she is stymied by a story that ranks shock value over substance. Performances are strong but plateau early, character development more concerned with setting up personalities that fit ugly existences than probing them for strengths and foibles.

Tyrannosaur is a little like a British Snowtown in its grimy, blue collar representations of dangerous ‘burbs, with a hint of the bleak interpersonal relationships in downers like Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth. Considine’s characters seem constricted by their purposes, their trajectories almost tokenistically dramatic.

The film is fluidly shot by cinematographer Eric Wilson (Submarine) and its muddy atmospherics are realistically grim. But the harsh dramatic conditions surrounding the characters lives colour them prisoners of contrivance. At best they feel exaggerated; at worst fake and transparent.

Tyrannosaur will screen exclusively at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova from February 23, 2012.