Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Reel Review: LOCKE

The concept behind director Steven Knight’s LOCKE feels like it would be more at home on a quaint stage in front of a small audience more than the big screen. It is a cast of one man in one setting, with that one man shouldering the burden of telling the story through his own dialogue. The idea is sound for the stage, and making that work cinematically was the challenge for Knight and his one brilliant actor.
Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a master at concrete production and pouring for large-scale, billion-dollar construction projects. On the eve of the biggest pour of his career, he suddenly gets in his car and drives away from everything, and begins to make a series of phone calls while in transit to his wife, kids, co-workers, and one-time lover…all of which drastically change his life as the miles pass.

LOCKE is one of the most minimalistic films ever put together. Ivan Locke is the only person who physically appears, with the rest of the characters only being heard through his hands-free phone device. The reasons for Locke’s long drive are made clear through each phone call…with each one raising the stakes and presenting new challenges for him. These reasons are familiar yet sound, and through it all we get to know Locke with each phone call. It sounds dull on paper, but there is a mesmerizing quality to the film as Locke’s life and career begin to fall away from him. Story and character should always come first, and LOCKE lets both of those elements spill freely and it doesn’t take long to realize how engrossing it really is. Less of a thrill-ride and more of a tension-building character piece, LOCKE doesn’t involve any villains or high-speed chases, and is simply all about an ordinary man dealing with the consequences of his actions.
Director Seven Knight is presented with the challenge of making a man driving down the highway interesting to sit and watch for 90 minutes (the film nearly unfolds in real-time, by the way). Knight somehow makes the interior of Locke’s car seem incredibly cinematic. He makes excellent use of every inch of the car…dashboard lights, reflections, mirrors, glass; all of which are a marvel to look at and supports the strong storytelling. The one-man-in-a-car adds to the feeling of isolation that Locke is going through, and just for good measure Knight throws in a few metaphors in the dialogue and in the physical surroundings which work very well. Locke’s occasional rants against his long-dead father often threaten to derail the film, but are presented in small doses and add some diversity in what had the potential to be a redundant narrative.

What it makes it all work and work well is the fierce and committed performance by Tom Hardy. As an actor who has made impressions with his physical work over the past decade, the burden was on him to sell the film when being filmed from the chest-up…and he rises to the occasion and often surpasses it. His character is an eternal optimist no matter how stressful or dire the situation gets, and he plays the strong-on-the-outside yet suffering-on-the-inside beautifully. His face is always convincing and the outbursts of emotion are startling. This is a career-best for Tom Hardy.
The ending comes a little abruptly, but makes sense considering the situation. The power behind LOCKE is very subtle, and by the time the credits roll there is a total feeling of astonishment; not only because what could have been a gimmick worked so well, but because of the extraordinary performance of one man and one director. LOCKE is as gripping as it is brilliant.


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