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Thread: LOCKE (Steven Knight 2013)

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    LOCKE (Steven Knight 2013)

    Steven Knight: Locke (2013)


    Moral study of character acted out in a car

    Locke is a one-person tour-de-force set entirely in the driver's seat of a BMW headed south to London virtually in real time. The protagonist, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a construction supervisor whose speciality is laying concrete foundations for tall buildings. His magnum opus, pouring the largest foundation set in Europe other than for a military installation, happens early tomorrow. But he will not be there. He is headed to a hospital where a woman not his wife is about to deliver his baby. Through an up-to-date in-car phone system he speaks to the woman, to his wife, to his two sons, to a supervisor (listed as "BASTARD" in his electric dashboard phone book), and to his chief co-worker Donal (Andrew Scott), who will have to take over his duties, and to others, as he drives. We hear only their voices; we never see them. He also talks to his dead father, who does not talk back, and who apparently was a bastard too. Locke is hurrying to London to be there when Bethan (Olivia Colman) gives birth. There is no one else to be with her. His wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) and two sons, Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Milner) were expecting him at home to watch an important football match together. Locke is beautifully shot by dp Haris Zambarloukos, creating a phantasmagoric multifaceted thing of the fractured images of Locke at the wheel refracted through windows while cars and lights flash back in yellowed night imagery. But regardless of these glorious efforts to make the unvarying subject visually complex to watch, the movie stands or falls with Tom Hardy's voice and face, which must go through a world of emotions. Luckily, Hardy is up to the challenge, and he handles it subtly. But this movie really isn't about drama or a chase or a race against time or emotional climaxes. It's a study of character and a meditation on morality. And some may find that not enough to sustain us.

    Samuel Beckett is evoked, for Bethan, in great pain and sore afraid and alone in a hospital ward, desperate to have Locke with her, says this is "like waiting for God -- or Godot!" But this allusion, a reference to desperation and last things, also points up that the tension Knight creates (he scripted as well as directs) tends to undercut his meditation on life's bitter ironies and dire, impossible choices. But such undercutting of philosophy and ethics with tension and worry is the nature of conventional drama, which this basically is, not Beckett, with his eschatological pauses and profound bons mots. Locke goes barely ten seconds without the phone's ringing, and there are even insistent call-waiting notices during calls, a lineup of interlocutors waiting to importune the man.

    Ivan Locke emerges as admirable, but not very interesting. His virtues have been simple. He has been a loyal husband and father -- though at the peak of her anger when he confesses his transgression, his wife says he cared more about his buildings. He has certainly been impeccable at his work. He was on a job for a while last year with a female secretary, fortyish, lonely, friendless: Bethan. One night, they drank too much wine. He "pitied" her. They had sex. She has chosen to have the child as her "last chance to be happy." One mistake. Does that change everything? In Knight's strict world apparently it does, or may do.

    The machinery of rising tension, unfolding drama, confined to a car, was used recently in Courtney Solomon's crude, over-the-top-intense 2013 demolition derby movie Getaway, starring Ethan Hawke. No moral issues there, no choices. Hawke's character is inexplicably driving wildly around at the whim of a kidnapper who holds his wife. The suspense is over whether he'll satisfy his tormenter and save his wife. Other dramas have used a solo actor and a phone. A recent example is Michael Shannon's tour-de-force 2010-11 at the Barrow Street Theater in lower Manhattan in Craig Wright's Mistakes Were Made, playing a harried theatrical agent whose career and personal life are going south. Arguably, hyperventilating productions like these two are more what confined-space monodrama calls for. The ploy of Knight in Locke is a chance-taking variation: providing physical business that is more realistic and a protagonist whose hysteria is firmly repressed. Tom Hardy's fine performance is a display of supreme control. Whatever desperation creeps through has a certain nobility about it.

    But Ivan Locke is still not a very interesting character. Is he right to blow his marriage and career -- during the movie's 85 minutes the Chicago firm fires him and his wife plans to divorce him -- in order to man-up and be nice to the woman he barely knows whose child he has accidentally fathered? He seems able to conduct all his affairs, including supervising the childbirth, by phone. He might have provided the greatest good to the greatest number by showing up for his family and his cement-pouring job. Locke is trying to make up for a bad decision with another bad one: but this is a portrait of a man with nowhere to hide. This kind of action traditionally keeps you totally, even painfully, engrossed while it's happening, and then you forget it. But Locke leaves you with a thing or two to ponder after it's done.

    Locke, 85 mins., debuted at Venice 2 September 2013, appearing in other festivals, opening in the UK 18 April 2014 and the US 25 April. Steven Knight is English, as is Tom Hardy; the latter gained international attention for a key role in Christopher Nolan's Inception. Knight is known for Eastern Promises (Cronenberg, 2007) and Dirty Pretty Things (Frears 2002) for which he wrote the screenplays, among many (including Amazing Grace), and for Redemption (2013), which he wrote and directed. This is his second feature as a director. This film, executive produced by Joe Wright, won the British Independent Film Award for Best Screenplay and was nominated there for Best Actor and Editing. Locke has gained rave reviews in the US and UK (Metacritic 82). Screened for this review at Landmark California Theater, Berkeley, 16 May 2014.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-28-2014 at 11:36 PM.


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