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Review: Locke (2014)

Locke (2014)

Directed by: Steven Knight

Premise: Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a family man and a construction manager. On the eve of a major construction project, Locke discovers that a woman he had an affair with is about to give birth to their child. He abandons the project and breaks his plans with his family to be with her, driving through the night while taking calls on his car phone.

What Works: Movies are so-called because they create the illusion of movement. That is the quality that differentiates motion pictures from all other arts. As such, it is incumbent upon films to use movement to communicate, whether that movement occurs among subjects within a fixed background, by movement of the camera around static or kinetic objects, or by the juxtaposition of still and moving images through editing. The movement of most motion pictures comes about naturally as a matter of the story and the subject. Locke is an amazing cinematic accomplishment because the situation of the movie does not invite movement and yet it moves. This is a story that consists almost entirely of a man sitting in his car and talking on the phone. Writer and director Steven Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos have taken an inherently un-cinematic concept and made a proper movie out of it. The filmmakers find interesting and relevant angles to shoot the movie from, constantly choose new angles, utilize the contrast of a static car against a kinetic background, and employ clever and artful editing choices like dissolves and composite shots to maintain an impression of momentum. As the single actor on screen in Locke, the success of this film rests on actor Tom Hardy and he is more than up to the task. Hardy generally plays very confident and masculine characters, as he does here, but Ivan Locke is masculine without being macho. Locke is a man of principle and his adherence to those principles puts him in a situation in which he could lose everything dear to him. That makes the character a compelling personality. The story of Locke balances three areas of concern: the imminent birth, his job, and Locke’s relationship with his wife and son. Locke fields phone calls from all three of those fronts and despite its unconventional premise the film adheres to a solid narrative structure in which fortune and failure are constantly in flux, pushing the character to a breaking point.  

What Doesn’t: Mainstream viewers are likely to be confused or frustrated by Locke. This is a movie that takes place entirely inside of a car and Tom Hardy is the only actor who appears on screen. The script plays a bit like a theatrical production; it’s easy to imagine this as a one man stage show. The movie works but it is so departed from what mainstream audiences have been conditioned to expect that a lot of viewers will be thrown by it. The collision between the style of this film and viewer expectations is likely to be compounded by the presence of actor Tom Hardy. General audiences know Hardy best from action titles like Inception and Warrior. He’s terrific in this film but Locke is a very different kind of picture than the blockbuster movies that he’s been associated with. There is one element of Locke that doesn’t quite work. At several points, the title character looks into the empty backseat via the rearview mirror and speaks to his father, who isn’t there. It’s revealed that Locke’s father was an absentee parent and that the son resents his now deceased father. These monologues provide the necessary background for the character and explain why Locke is risking so much but these moments sometimes come across a little forced and even silly since he’s talking to an empty seat. These scenes don’t ruin the movie but the monologues aren’t as compelling as the dialogues that Locke has with his family and coworkers.  

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurette, and trailers.

Bottom Line: Locke is a terrific film, albeit an unusual one. This movie is extremely well made and features a terrific performance by Tom Hardy. It also ought to be an inspiring film for up and coming filmmakers, at it shows how much can be done with so little.

Episode: #509 (September 21, 2014)