Friday, August 22, 2014

Heading out to the highway: LOCKE

If you've read my blog entry from a few years back praising British actor Tom Hardy, it's pretty obvious that I'd watch the guy in just about anything - he's that good. (My wife accuses me of having a man crush on him, which I will neither confirm nor deny.) Imagine my excitement, then, when I heard about Locke, a film that's essentially all Tom Hardy, all the time. Locke takes place almost entirely within the confines of an automobile driven by the titular Ivan Locke (Hardy), a successful construction foreman specializing in concrete foundations. On the eve of what is to be the pinnacle of his career - the largest civilian concrete pour in Europe, setting the foundation for a 55-story tower - Locke buckles himself into his BMW and begins a journey that will change his life forever over the course of a couple of hours. Leaving the massively complex project in the hands of an experienced but hesitant underling, he heads for a London hospital to meet the imminent birth of his newest child. En route, it quickly becomes evident to us that the mother of the child is not Locke's wife, and the explosiveness of the situation comes into sharp focus. On top of that, he's leaving his company in the lurch and potentially risking a very expensive mess if everything doesn't go just right the next morning. Using the Bluetooth phone in his car, Locke makes and receives a series of calls to his wife, the baby's mother and his co-workers, all the while trying desperately to mitigate the damage caused by his indiscretion. As he travels from point A to point B, his carefully constructed life comes crashing down around him.


When a film takes place in a single location with a only a single actor on camera, you'd better make sure that actor has the chops to carry the film, and Hardy certainly does. Sporting a lilting accent that was unfamiliar to me but is apparently Welsh, Hardy is the sole focus of Locke from beginning to end. The knowledge that the camera will be on them virtually non-stop might tempt a lesser actor to show off, but Hardy never does. It's a quiet, reserved performance, not at all like his larger-than-life turns in Bronson or The Dark Knight Rises. Locke remains relatively placid throughout, at least while he's on the phone, but Hardy subtly shades his performance while mostly avoiding the big emotions we might expect, save for a handful of key scenes. In fact, while freeze-framing through a couple of scenes to get the perfect screen captures for this post, I was fascinated to see the how Hardy's expressions changed ever-so-slightly from one frame to the next. The effect is nearly subliminal, and it only increased my appreciation of his acting skill.

There are a couple of interludes between phone calls in which Locke venomously reproaches his late father, seething at the dead man whose shortcomings were apparently many. While doing so, Locke glances in the car's rear-view mirror; it's almost as if he thinks his father is a passenger in the back seat, but he's also looking at himself, desperate to convince himself that he has not inherited these character flaws, but also deathly afraid that he has. He's obviously a man who is used to being in control of his life, but as things quickly begin to go south, he starts to lose his grip on that control. Despite his weaknesses, we sympathize with Locke as he tries, without much success, to convince those he's let down that he just wants to do the right thing. His sense of responsibility compels him to be there for the birth of his child, but he's also driven to ensure that the concrete pour is a success despite the fact that he's physically abandoned the construction site. He partially blames the affair on both parties having had too much to drink, but it's really a halfhearted attempt at justification, and he mostly owns up to his failure. His bigger mistake is naïvely hoping that everyone involved will be able to just pick up and move on.

While Locke is clearly Hardy's film for the taking, it would be wrong to call it entirely a one-man show. Although we only ever hear their voices, the actors on the other end of the phone (many of them veterans of some of my favorite British television shows) constitute a rock-solid supporting ensemble. In particular, Andrew Scott (Sherlock's villainous Moriarty) as Donal, the rather high-strung man left in charge of the concrete pour in Locke's absence, brings some much-needed levity to the film. Locke obviously has faith in Donal's ability, but Donal himself is not so sure, and he downs a few ciders to calm his nerves, leading to some drolly funny exchanges. Ruth Wilson (the sexy psychopath Alice from the series Luther) is the voice of Locke's wife, Katrina, and her performance deftly underscores the crushing heartbreak which Locke's infidelity has caused. Their conversations are palpably painful. Olivia Colman (from the hysterically funny series Peep Show) provides the voice of Bethan, the mother of Locke's child, and her character is believably frail and uncertain. I'm familiar with the faces of all of these actors, but I have to admit, I didn't recognize any of them by their names or voices, and I was pleasantly surprised when I looked them all up. The other actors all do fine jobs as well, particularly the two young men (Tom Holland and Bill Milner) who voice Locke's sons; they provide the film with some of its emotional highlights.

Locke was written and directed by Steven Knight. It's only his second directorial effort outside of television, but he's also written a number of other fine films, including David Cronenberg's Russian mob classic Eastern Promises. While a film set almost entirely in a car might sound like it could get stale very quickly, Locke never does. In fact, it's mesmerizing. The film's relatively brief running time helps in that regard, but it's assisted even more so by Knight's dynamic direction. He keeps the camera in constant motion, showing Locke from a multitude of angles and giving us glimpses of what he sees as he drives along the motorway. Since Locke's journey takes place at night, it's a visually dark film, which only adds to the intimacy and claustrophobia. Some of the metaphors in the script might seem a bit heavy-handed; at one point, Locke talks about how the slightest crack in a foundation can bring the whole structure down. The connection to his own predicament is fairly obvious, but it does seem appropriate. I've seen a few blurbs that tout the film as some sort of thriller, but while it's nothing of the kind, it still keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout due to the high emotional stakes. While the ending is appropriately sober, it does provide Locke with a brief glimmer of possible redemption. It's a wonderful sophomore effort from director Knight, and it's yet another wildly impressive performance from Tom Hardy, who just keeps racking them up.