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.



Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

I’m just the balloon man.

Copshop (2021) (SPOILERS) A consistent problem with Joe Carnahan’s oeuvre is that, no matter how confidently his movies begin, or how strong his premise, or how adept his direction or compelling the performances he extracts, he ends up blowing it. He blows it with Copshop , a ’70s-inspired variant on Assault on Precinct 13 that is pretty damn good during the first hour, before devolving into his standard mode of sado-nihilistic mayhem.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

When we have been subtle, then can I kill him?

The Avengers 6.16. Legacy of Death There’s scarcely any crediting the Terry Nation of Noon-Doomsday as the same Terry Nation that wrote this, let alone the Terry Nation churning out a no-frills Dalek story a season for the latter stages of the Jon Pertwee era. Of course, Nation had started out as a comedy writer (for Hancock), and it may be that the kick Brian Clemens gave him up the pants in reaction to the quality of Noon-Doomsday loosened a whole load of gags. Admittedly, a lot of them are well worn, but they come so thick and fast in Legacy of Death , accompanied by an assuredly giddy pace from director Don Chaffey (of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts ) and a fine ensemble of supporting players, that it would be churlish to complain.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.