"I'm not turning back."
Steven Knight has crafted at least two outstanding scripts, one for director Stephen Frears' 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things, and the other for David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. He has very little experience behind the camera, however, directing only four episodes of a TV series called The Detectives in the mid-90s, as well as last year's Jason Statham vehicle Redemption. Therefore, it was difficult to know what to make of his latest effort, Locke, a high concept/low tech film starring Tom Hardy. The trailers gave little indication as to what the film was about, placing a lot of the onus on audience members to trust that this was going to be worth their time. Did that gambit pay off? Read on to find out…
The film opens as Ivan Locke (Hardy), a Welsh construction foreman, is leaving a job site at the end of the day. He calls home to tell his wife (Ruth Wilson) that he's not going to be coming home, but she is out getting food and drink for a big football match that is on that night. His sons beg him to come home and watch with them, but he is driving to London. He then calls his friend Donal (Andrew Scott) to tell him that he is going to have to take the lead on a big concrete pour happening at work tomorrow, because Locke is going to be in London. Donal begins to freak out, but Locke calmly walks him through all of the steps he'll need to take at the site.
Locke then places a call to his boss Gareth (Ben Daniels) to tell him that he won't be at work tomorrow, but he is still supervising everything remotely. Gareth tells him that he may find himself out of a job if he's not on site tomorrow, but Locke tells him that it will be impossible. Locke is driving to London to attend to Bethan (Olivia Colman), a woman who he knows very little about, but has all of a sudden become a major part of his life. During his ninety minute drive to London, we get all of the information we need to suss out what's happening, as all of these balls Locke is trying to simultaneously keep in the air threaten to crash down to Earth at a moment's notice.
And so Locke plays out, nearly in real time, and it is one of the most intense and nerve-wracking, yet highly edifying and brilliant films to come out in a long time. The way information is doled out little by little to paint a portrait of a man whom everyone thinks is completely in control of every aspect of his life yet is actually orchestrating his own downfall, is sublimely done. It's the kind of film in which the less you know about it going in, the more satisfying an experience it would be, yet there's no doubt that even with foreknowledge of certain plot points, it would still work just as well. This is a film that will play brilliantly on repeat viewings, as you can allow the tension to wash away and just marvel in how masterfully orchestrated it all is.
The most remarkable thing about the film is how simply it's constructed. Filmed over the course of six nights, basically utilizing each night for a different, continuous take with three cameras rolling, you're stuck inside this world with Locke, and every tiny gesture, inflection, glance, word, and deed is magnified. You desperately pore over everything that you're given, assembling the pieces of the story as you try to find a deeper meaning within it all, yet in hindsight, you're given everything you need from this nearly perfect script. It is an absolute gem of a script, but it would amount to very little were it not for the impeccable performance given by Tom Hardy.
Hardy is as talented an actor as there is working today, and spending ninety minutes in his company is enough of a selling point for most people, yet somehow, he manages to surprise even those already privy to his massive talent. It is a shame that most American audiences only know him as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, which was a toweringly huge and broad character. He certainly did a lot with the character, and made him one of the more interesting comic book villains to ever grace the screen, but his talent for playing small and intimate could barely register behind that mask and Bartley Gorman impression. Hardy can do just about anything put in front of him, and his performance here is wonderfully nuanced, simple, and incredible.
Knight manages to keep things moving forward at all times, throwing in some very funny dialogue to ease the tension, and opening up the world just enough to give the audience a breather right when they need it most. You never feel trapped by the style of the film, but the character of Locke is infused with enough empathy to make the audience identify with him, which is crucial for a film of this nature. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is wonderfully drenched with the reds and yellows of the highway, and utilizes natural light in a way that would make even Terrence Malick blush. It's a beautiful film to look at, and is made all the more interesting by its very selective use of sound. The score by Dickon Hinchliffe is used sparingly and always at the right moments, and compliments the images and words in such a way as to never feel overbearing.
The American distribution house A24 is still in its relative infancy, but with both this film and the equally amazing Under the Skin to its name already this year, it is positioning itself as a company to watch. Locke is one of the best films released thus far in 2014, and my only hope is that it is not forgotten come the end of the year, least of all for Tom Hardy's career best performance. Getting people into the theaters to see it is likely going to be its biggest battle, but audiences have always sought out worthwhile films and this one should be no exception. Do yourself a favor and go see Locke, even if you have to drive ninety minutes to see it. You'll have plenty to talk about on the ride home.