Monday, April 28, 2014


Taut and compactly-sized, Steven Knight's new film Locke stars Tom Hardy as a man whose life begins to unravel during a particularly stress-laden drive on a British highway.  The eighty-five minute morality play-- a one man show, nearly real-time affair-- sounds on the outset like a stage-driven chamber piece that may outstay its welcome a few miles in.  Certainly the idea of  someone yammering on his Bluetooth doesn't exactly lend itself for entertaining or particularly interesting drama.  Yet, thanks to inventive filming and a commanding lead turn, Locke is an invigorating and alert piece of filmmaking, one where the contrivances are certainly there and made aware, but quickly forgotten due to its human connection to real world stress and anxiety-- which to be fair, quite often takes place independently and behind the wheel of a car.

On one hand, Locke poses itself as a companion piece of sorts to recent ultra-confined one man (or woman) movies like Buried (2010), which saw Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin, Phone Booth (2003), which saw Colin Farrell trapped in a, well, duh, and Gravity (2013) where Sandra Bullock floated in deep space.  Yet, what separates Locke is that it's crafted and shaded with everyday human struggle.  No alien premise or absurd set of circumstances pivot Ivan Locke (Hardy) down this particularly dark British highway except for the small, but pivotal professional and personal choices of his own doing.Something which is in keeping for Knight, who before becoming an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and director made a name for himself as the creator of the original British version of the popular game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.  Throughout that as well as his scripts for Dirty Pretty Things (2003) and Eastern Promises (2007), Knight has a penchant for boxing his protagonists into tight corners, confining themselves with little else but their own moral questioning.  Locke, as a nifty and small-scaled experiment, appears a thoughtful inquisition of similarly examined claustrophobic themes, the ante slightly raised.  He seems to like putting people in the hot seat.

Ivan is a successful construction foreman on the eve of one of the biggest professional benchmarks of his career as he is set to oversee the biggest non-military concrete pouring in European history.  Yet he will not be there, he has chosen instead to take a nearly ninety minute drive from Birmingham to London to right a wrong he made nearly nine months prior.  In a fit of loneliness and whatever else was in the air while away from home working, the family man fell from grace and is about to become father to a new baby from that one-time mistake.  Locke's sense of obligation and pragmatism is expressed nearly right away in this blistering slow-burn of a movie, and he fills the entire film with a series of phone conversations set to make things right-- to his wife, to the mother-to-be, to his boss and his nervous second-in-command, scared out of his wits of having to go through with the pouring all on his own.

All of which sounds overbearing, or even perhaps faintly boring in description, but Hardy creates such a commanding character study that Locke slowly becomes something quite riveting and alive.  Using a Welsh-affected accent, Hardy is purposeful and ever calming as each of the respective strands of life begin to slowly unravel-- he's aware that losing his cool will only make things worse, even as he sits, isolated, alone and on the verge of cracking at any second.  There's also a steely resolve he instills in Ivan, a man seemingly celebrated for his work ethic and all-around decency.  The sense of guilt that he's been holding in for months has the sense of something that he's rehearsed and over-rehearsed his mea culpas inside his head over and over again, such to point the unprepared responses laid on by his wife Katrina (voiced by Ruth Wilson), one night stand Bethan (Olivia Colman), boss Gareth, given the endearing cell name of "Bastard" (Ben Daniels) and underling Donal (Andrew Scott) floor him in unsettling ways.  He's over-rationalized everything so fully at this point that there's an interesting disconnect in the way no one else is able to move on.

Locke has his reasons-- they are slowly sputtered out in a few unexpected asides where he cross-examines his own lack of a father.  In these moments, Locke becomes a bit more stage-bound and slightly hokey where the device of filtering out backstory and grander gravitas becomes ever more on the nose.  It's a testament to Hardy's commitment and the films resolve to not overly underline its own cleverness that it just works, especially as the film gets going and allegiances are clearly established.

In the few moments where Locke allows himself a moment to reflect-- like a particularly moving late-in-the-film scene as he's listening to a voice message from young son Eddie (Tom Holland)-- Hardy swells.  Through the pushed back tears, the actor's face (the most alluring visual in Locke) becomes smaller and tighter and the instant vulnerability is striking and notable just because it seemingly captures something so raw, almost embarrassing to fathom.  To this credit, Locke marks the strongest performance of Hardy's interesting collection of characters-- freed of hyper masculinity he exhibited so brazenly in movies like Bronson (2008), Warrior (2011) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), he's relatably human and the effect is jarring at first, but striking.

The same could be said for the film as a whole.  Locke was made over a period of two weeks, shot from beginning to end as scripted with the disembodied voice actors held up at a hotel over a conference call.  The conceit called for it be made in the vein as a play-- like if an actor flubbed a line or something, just keep going.  Knight and ace cinemtographer Haris Zambarloukos (Thor) shot with three different cameras going simultaneously-- the effect woven rather beautifully.  As the film moves forward and the emotional intensity grows, the filmmakers smartly take a beat outside the confined space of the car so Ivan and the audience can take a breath.  As a whole, Locke swiftly works as atmospheric mood piece almost unintentionally-- perhaps like the smaller scaled right-side-of-the-road counterpoint to Michael Mann's driving-around-LA-at-night opus Collateral (2004.)

At the end of this very long drive, there's heart-ache but a smidgeon of hope.  The journey may definitely be more involving than the destination and Locke may represent not much more than a really good appetizer than a hearty, full course meal, but it's certainly worthy of a trip.  B+

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