Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Alternate Title:  The Car

One sentence synopsis:    A construction foreman must make a series of life-changing phone calls while driving to London the night before his biggest project ever.

Things Havoc liked:  If you've been following my reviews, you know that my luck (or skill at choosing movies) has not been particularly good recently. The Railway Man was a bitter disappointment, and Under the Skin was one of the worst theater-going experiences I can recall from recent memory. Both of these films were indie fare, of course, as this time of year, indie cinema is generally the only game in town, occupied as the major studios are in producing Tyler Perry movies, bad comedies, and utter dreck that would be laughed off the screen any other time of year. Experiences like this are enough to put one off indie films for quite some time, but one must soldier on, and so in quest of something I might actually like to see, I decided to go watch Tom Hardy sit in a car for two hours.

No, I'm serious. Locke, a strange pet-project by Eastern Promises, Amazing Grace, and Dirty Pretty Things' writer Steven Knight, is a film that consists entirely of Tom Hardy, playing a welsh construction foreman named Ivan Locke, who sits in his car for the nearly two hours it requires for him to travel from his job site somewhere in the British country to London, and speaks to the rest of the movie's cast on his hands-free phone. With the exception of the first couple minutes of the film, which consist of Locke getting into his car, the entire rest of the film is Locke in his driver's seat, talking to others on the phone (or to himself) as he makes his way to London. The camera may cut occasionally to the highway outside. The cinematography may shift about the car, filming Locke from various angles, but the entire film is nothing but a man in his car, talking to unseen voice actors on the other end of the line. For nearly two hours.

And yet it works, and that might be the biggest surprise of this whole endeavor, it works and it works well, to the point that by the end of the film I'd have easily watched another half hour of it. Much of the reason for this is Tom Hardy, whom I praised in Inception and in The Dark Knight Rises, but who puts on a completely different class of performance in this role. Required to emote and act while buckled into a car seat for nearly two hours, and locked into a character who isn't allowed much in the way of thunder and lightning, Hardy nonetheless gives the best performance I've ever seen from him, as a man dedicated to his craft and his family, who nonetheless makes a decision that will almost certainly cost him both based on a mistake he made and his own judgment of how he must go about fixing it. Through conversations with his wife, his son, his co-worker, and his boss, he gets across perfectly the manner of man that Ivan Locke is, a consumate, almost myopic professional, who is presently undergoing the most stressful night that it is possible to undergo without mass death. Everything he goes through is spot-right, from the frustrations of talking to someone on the phone who simply won't listen to you, to the semi-rational hilarity of a situation that finally goes so far past reasonable as to finally become funny. The pressure and the pain (and the bizarre, cathartic sense triumph that often comes with being able to cope even somewhat with a hellish situation) is written all over his face and voice, even as events dance on the edge of control at his job and his home. Bereft of the usual tools that actors use, it's a fascinating performance, one that will stick out in my mind whenever I think of Tom Hardy from now on.

I mentioned before that Steven Knight's background is as a filmwriter, and given that this movie is almost pure dialogue, that makes a degree of sense. The writing is crisp and evocative, giving us snippets of character in both the seen and unseen cast without advertising itself as designated character building scenes. Despite not seeing them, Locke's son, his wife, his co-worker Donel, and his boss Gareth (IDed on his phone system as "Bastard") are all brilliantly characterized through voice (and a bit of background sound) alone. Shot selection is necessarily somewhat limited, but manages at least to avoid being boring, cutting between scenery and various angles of our titular character as he tries to navigate the course he's chosen for his life. The score is minimalist, which is the right call, underlying only the most important scenes and then only in the most restrained way. Everything sums together to produce an experience that, far from being boring, is actually one of the more interesting ones I've had in some time.

Things Havoc disliked: Unfortunately, it appears that the fact that this movie actually works, despite the lack of action or change of setting, came as a surprise not only to me but to the filmmakers, as they decided that there was a risk that the audience would not understand what was going on, and so decided to add in a series of scenes in which Locke talks literally to himself (or more precisely, to his dead father, whom he blames for many of his life's problems), which serve effectively as exposition scenes wherein the character explains his own motivation to us. These scenes are bad mistakes, as they clash with the overall style of the film and of the character itself. Locke is portrayed as an almost ruthlessly rational person, and to have him suddenly start talking to people who aren't there (though in fairness, the film is a bit coy as to whether or not he's physically speaking aloud for some of these scenes) undermines our sense of who Locke is. Given all the work of characterization that goes into Locke, this is all completely unnecessary. Having established so much about Locke solely through his conversations, there is nothing that we learn from these rants that we could not discover the way we discover everything else.

There's also some unavoidable issues arising with any film presented in what amounts to real time. The life-changing events that Locke undergoes over the course of his drive to London are not the sorts of things that can be resolved in an hour and a half, we get that, and so when some of the various threads do not wind up tied into a bow, that's fine. And yet several of them are terminated so abruptly that it's not left clear what the point was in the first place. It's as though the film has reached the end of its allotted runtime, and everything is allowed to drop. If that's what the film was going for, then fair enough, but this is a narrative medium that has built several compelling stories, and to have not only no resolution but precious little concept of what sort of resolution might be expected in the future from a story that was previously important enough to devote 45 minutes to is... jarring to say the least.

Final thoughts:   But flawed though this film is, there's no denying that despite having one of the stranger conceits in indie films this year, Locke is a very solid piece of work. Not only the finest thing I've ever seen from either Hardy or Knight, this film proves that what I said last week about Under the Skin was appropriate. A slow film (and this is necessarily a slow movie) does not have to be boring. Indeed I'd gladly have doubled this one's length if it meant skipping last week's fare.

Indie films this time of year tend to paper over the long, ugly gap in Hollywood films between January and May. They're no sure thing either (obviously), but at the very least they can still offer something worth watching. After the month I've had, that's a reminder well-appreciated.

Final Score:  7/10

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