Skip to main content

I have made my decision.

Locke
(2013)

There’s always a danger with movies that self-consciously restrict themselves – be it sticking to one location, or a minimal cast – that they become little more than formal exercises. Alternately, they can end up seeming over theatrical (since they adapt or adopt conventions of the stage) or they really should have been a short film and struggle to reach feature length. Phone Booth is one such example; in and of itself entertaining but the high concept keeps hitting you in the face. On the other hand you never question the close-quarter intimacy of My Dinner with Andre, so fascinating is the conversation. Locke comes with the “an exercise in limitations” strapline leading the way; an entire movie set in a car, with its protagonist talking down the phone? That’s asking for trouble. And yet, because writer-director Steven Knight eschews (nearly) anything that would invite disbelief (this is very much not “Die Hard in a BMW”) the 90 minutes play out with remarkable conviction.


Knight’s maligned directorial debut Hummingbird made little attempt at anything approximating reality; the Stat as an Afghanistan veteran, happening across a luckily vacated luxury apartment, righting wrongs while befriending a nun. I quite liked it in a daffy kind of way, but it wasn’t a patch on some of his earlier scripts such as Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. Locke might have the visual sheen of those thrillers, but it is very much a concerted change of pace and genre. Which doesn’t make it Mike Leigh either. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos commented that his approach was to treat the car like a spaceship and he arrives at an elegant, seductive look; lights, reflections, and tracers glow as near-close encounters or flash by as Locke speeds through the night. The effect on the viewer is hypnotic, even as Locke is trying to keep a lid on the multiple traumas vying for his attention. His world is hermetically sealed, strangely still, but it’s only his controlled, measured responses to each situation that insulate Locke from the spiralling hysteria that follows his choice.


Hardy is Ivan Locke, the foreman on a Birmingham building project. On learning the woman he slept with seven months before has gone into labour, he gets in his car and heads for London to attend the birth. This means he won’t be home for the football match his wife and two sons plan to watch with him. More crucially, it means he won’t be there for the next day’s concrete pour, the biggest pour in Europe outside of nuclear and military facilities. The reaction from his colleagues is one of understandable meltdown, and he must juggle calls with his boss, a junior, his sons, his wife (to whom he admits to his infidelity, which only serves to up the ante), the soon-to-be mother of his child and various others who stray into the various messes.


The camera is on Hardy (who, more practically than method-ly, had a cold during shooting so incorporates it into the character; so much more than mere prop acting) throughout, and he’s so mesmerising the initially disorientating Welsh accent is forgotten in minutes. True, there’s a moment’s alarm; just what has he done? A whole movie featuring Dad’s Army’s Mr Cheeseman? Yet his choice is an astute one; Locke’s dulcet tones imbue a necessary calm because, as he repeatedly assures himself, he has to keep a level head while around are losing theirs.


Knight navigates the warren of different demands on Locke’s attention with consummate skill. This barrage is believably established, so the trick is mostly keeping them in motion. The most mundane-sounding of professions becomes, if not interesting, fraught and demanding. Locke’s wife understandably freaks out at the news of his cheating, while his one night stand is a lonely soul who needs constant reassurance and emotional validation he cannot provide. Locke’s only weapon in the struggle he faces is reacting sensibly and with empathy. He can’t achieve anything by flipping out himself since so much is beyond his control in this environment.


Locke’s also a sympathetic character; even his indiscretion was not done out of lust so much as feeling sorry for someone after he had too much to drink. He is contrite over his mistake (“I have behaved not at all like myself”) and confronts it rather than running away from it; his desire to avoid comparisons with the man his father was means he wants to be in the picture for his child. He prioritises this over his job, and few would disagree with this decision. He’s much more out of his depth in dealing with his wife, whom he has unsurprisingly put off coming clean to previously (so he confronts matters when his hand is forced, but he confronts them nevertheless). In the moment, Locke is aware that all the repercussions will have to be dealt with as they arise because morally he is quite certain that what he is doing is right (“This is the decision I have made”). Trying to find excuses now is pointless; “Because I’m not sick” is his response to the suggestion that things would have been so much simpler if he had just told his bosses he was unwell on the crucial day. We can only admire him for keeping his cool, and quite believe him when he says, “I’m going mad inside”.


The daunting logistics of filming on the M4, with the supporting cast live on the other end of the blower to Hardy, are surmounted seamlessly. I didn’t know the supporting performers until the credits, so they were a number of “Oh, of course!” moments of recognition. Olivia Colman as fling Bethan, and Ruth Wilson as wife Katrina are outstanding. Andrew Scott, overwhelmingly irritating as Moriarty in Sherlock is quite superb as out-of-his-depth Donal, asked to stand in for Locke on site and getting through it as he can (“So, that is cider you’re drinking”). Ben Daniels (House of Cards) is also very good as Locke’s despairing superior.


There are a couple of issues; while it’s quite believable that Locke would be talking to himself, the decision to fill every gap between calls with an imaginary conversation with his deceased father is unnecessarily lacking in trust for how well the piece holds together; we already know his motivation in that regard, and any number of different choices would have been more successful (even silence). There’s also the question of why, given the numerous possible problems (which do transpire) in respect of this massive job, Locke was going home anyway. Doubtless this could have been explained in a line or two, but as it plays Locke either had misplaced confidence that he could sort everything out when he got there in the morning or Knight hasn’t quite thought things through.


Knight's film is a fine character study and Hardy, quietly and confidently, dazzles. He disappears into Locke’s unassuming resolve, eschewing the physicality and emotional heft we’ve come to associate with him. Knight has also tackled many and varied genres, but this feels like a significant new string to his bow. As a director he now looks like someone (with all due credit to the other departments, notably Justine Wright’s editing and Dickon Hinchcliffe’s score) all set to join the ranks of those illustrious peers who have successfully made the transition to multi-hyphenate.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.