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

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Are you, by any chance, in a trance now, Mr Morrison?

The Doors (1991) (SPOILERS) Oliver Stone’s mammoth, mythologising paean to Jim Morrison is as much about seeing himself in the self-styled, self-destructive rebel figurehead, and I suspect it’s this lack of distance that rather quickly leads to The Doors becoming a turgid bore. It’s strange – people are , you know, films equally so – but I’d hitherto considered the epic opus patchy but worthwhile, a take that disintegrated on this viewing. The picture’s populated with all the stars it could possibly wish for, tremendous visuals (courtesy of DP Robert Richardson) and its director operating at the height of his powers, but his vision, or the incoherence thereof, is the movie’s undoing. The Doors is an indulgent, sprawling mess, with no internal glue to hold it together dramatically. “Jim gets fat and dies” isn’t really a riveting narrative through line.

Fifty medications didn’t work because I’m really a reincarnated Russian blacksmith?

Infinite (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s as if Mark Wahlberg, his lined visage increasingly resembling a perplexed potato, learned nothing from the blank ignominy of his “performances” in previous big-budget sci-fi spectacles Planet of the Apes and, er, Max Payne . And maybe include The Happening in that too ( Transformers doesn’t count, since even all-round reprobate Shia La Boeuf made no visible dent on their appeal either way). As such, pairing him with the blandest of journeyman action directors on Infinite was never going to seem like a sterling idea, particularly with a concept so far removed from of either’s wheelhouse.

I can do in two weeks what you can only wish to do in twenty years.

Wrath of Man (2021) (SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie’s stripped-down remake of Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck , also the working title for this movie) feels like an intentional acceleration in the opposite direction to 2019’s return-to-form The Gentleman , his best movie in years. Ritchie seems to want to prove he can make a straight thriller, devoid of his characteristic winks, nods, playfulness and outright broad (read: often extremely crude) sense of humour. Even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its fair share of laughs. Wrath of Man is determinedly grim, though, almost Jacobean in its doom-laden trajectory, and Ritchie casts his movie accordingly, opting for more restrained performers, less likely to summon more flamboyant reflexes.

Five people make a conspiracy, right?

Snake Eyes (1998) (SPOILERS) The best De Palma movies offer a synthesis of plot and aesthetic, such that the director’s meticulously crafted shots and set pieces are underpinned by a solid foundation. That isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t a sheer pleasure to be had from the simple act of observing, from De Palma movies where there isn’t really a whole lot more than the seduction of sound, image and movement. Snake Eyes has the intention to be both scrupulously written and beautifully composed, coming after a decade when the director was – mostly – exploring his oeuvre more commercially than before, which most often meant working from others’ material. If it ultimately collapses in upon itself, then, it nevertheless delivers a ream of positives in both departments along the way.

I’ll look in Bostock’s pocket.

Doctor Who Revelation of the Daleks Lovely, lovely, lovely. I can quite see why Revelation of the Daleks doesn’t receive the same acclaim as the absurdly – absurdly, because it’s terrible – overrated Remembrance of the Daleks . It is, after all, grim, grisly and exemplifies most of the virtues for which the Saward era is commonly decried. I’d suggest it’s an all-time classic, however, one of the few times 1980s Who gets everything, or nearly everything, right. If it has a fault, besides Eric’s self-prescribed “Kill everyone” remit, it’s that it tries too much. It’s rich, layered and very funny. It has enough material and ideas to go off in about a dozen different directions, which may be why it always felt to me like it was waiting for a trilogy capper.

Madam, the chances of bagging an elephant on the Moon are remote.

First Men in the Moon (1964) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen swaps fantasy for science fiction and stumbles somewhat. The problem with his adaptation of popular eugenicist HG Wells’ 1901 novel isn’t so much that it opts for a quirky storytelling approach over an overtly dramatic one, but that it’s insufficiently dedicated to pursuing that choice. Which means First Men in the Moon , despite a Nigel Kneale screenplay, rather squanders its potential. It does have Lionel Jeffries, though.

I’ve crossed the Atlantic to be reasonable.

Dodsworth (1936) (SPOILERS) Prestige Samuel Goldwyn production – signifiers being attaching a reputable director, often William Wyler, to then-popular plays or classical literature, see also Dead End , Wuthering Heights , The Little Foxes , The Best Years of Our Lives , and earning a Best Picture nomination as a matter of course – that manages to be both engrossing and irritating. Which is to say that, in terms of characterisation, Dodsworth rather shows its years, expecting a level of engagement in the relationship between Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) and his wayward, fun-loving wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton) at odds with their unsympathetic behaviour.