Successful construction manager, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a man of principals and a dedicated father and husband. However, on the eve of the biggest deal of his career he receives a phone call which forces him to assess some choices he has made in life and sets forth a series of (e)motions that threaten to undo everything he has been dedicated to.
Locke has a very simple premise. So simple, it would lead you to believe that it's a very dull and uninteresting affair. It basically consists of spending 1hr 25mins stuck in a car with a man who does nothing more than talk to people on his hands-free device while driving from Birmingham to London and talking through his personal problems. However, it's anything but dull. In fact, the very simplicity of writer/director Steven Knight's approach is what makes the film so compelling.
Hardy talks a lot. A lot about his work in concrete; building development and laying foundations but the real development and foundations are built from his emotionally charged character.
Set entirely within the confines of his moving vehicle, the real driving force behind the narrative is the dialogue. It methodically peels back the layers of one man's quest to right a wrong in his life and Hardy's expressive mannerisms completely own the screen. Granted, he's the only person who actually appears onscreen (Olivia Colman et al literally phone in their roles) but that's not to take away from his exceptional and spellbinding performance.
For a film that's constantly on the move, it's actually deeply rooted in character development. Ivan's goals, achievements and morals are teased out with every conversation he's involved in and Hardy's emotion and nuance lends a captivating intensity to the overall mood and atmosphere.
A claustrophobic chamber piece that defies the big spending studios by delivering something personal and intimate without digging too deeply into it's pockets. It's more like a one-man play than a film and a great example of how less can be more.
Nate's Grade: B
Written and directed by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises), the film follows Ivan on the biggest night of his career. He's about to complete a multi-million dollar deal. His wife and sons are expecting him home to watch the big soccer match. But an unexpected phone call takes him away from all this, and we watch his life crumble as he drives to his new destination.
The film is a character study that suggests Locke's decisions in the film can be directly traced back to his experiences growing up. It explores the life he had, has, and will probably have moving past the end credits. It is 85 minutes, told in real time, and takes place in the interior of Ivan's car. You could say we are....locked....in a single perspective.
I can definitely see Locke failing to connect with a lot of people. But I can also see it being a highly engrossing experience for those willing to engage themselves in the story.
Locke follows Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, making phone calls that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his careful cultivated existence in one drive to the hospital. Usually if you can literally summarize everything that occurs in a film with a single sentence there's usually not a whole lot to dissect. That isn't the case with Locke taking place in real time and primarily consisting of dialogue to tell its story. Characterization and plot development all occurs through conversations on the phone each of which flow naturally. Each of the conversations plays around several explored ideas like being defined by your actions, the impact of fatherhood, escapism within your job, and many other ideas that serves it as a equally layered character study. The more time you spent with Lock the more you begin to doubt his good nature and begin to see a different meaning behind his words and motives. Locke is a very layered character whose words and action in certain situations will paint him in various shades. Being the only visible character in the film he's very defined with his interactions with supporting characters telling us allot of his relationship with them. On paper the plot is basically going from point A to point B without detours of any kind, yet a lone developed character is enough to carry the film.
On a the cinematography side of things the film is visually repetitive. The camera never stays at one angle for very long. It mixes extreme close-ups with medium shots, looks at Locke from his side mirrors, and then from his rearview mirror. Headlights and the streetlights reflect on his windshield, his windows and the shine of his car itself. Occasionally, the camera switches to a first-person view; we see what Locke sees. Repeating the same exterior shots of traffic or Locke car, not-too-functional shots of reflections of traffic lights in windshields, faded car lights, and interior shots just being different variation on Tom Hardy basically driving. While the cinematography is nothing impressive or engaging Tom Hardy is a true tour de force in his performance. Stuck behind the wheel of the car the entire time, there's very little for Hardy to do, which is both the point and what makes his performance so remarkable. Physically he can do nothing but Hardy manages to play a multitude of roles while chatting on the phone. One minute, he's the all-business deal breaker; the next, an attentive father, assuring his son he'll be home in the morning. After his son goes back to the game, and his colleague does his bidding, and playing the role of insubordinate employee. Playing up various aspects of the character personality through by effortlessly changing his mannerism at a moment notice.
Locke is not an interesting movie to look at with repetitive shot compositions, but it's an intriguing experiment that works for Tom Hardy to display some strong acting in a difficult role and challenges Steven Knight as a storyteller. It's a rare film relying primarily on a single actor to be on screen containing the usual great story and a great performance by it lone star even if visually there's not much to latch on to.
Tom Hardy is one of those people who have been bubbling under the surface of superstardom for the past few years, and in LOCKE, he cements his status as a world class actor. The deceptively simple story of one man driving a car from point A to point B while taking a series of tense phone calls is all it takes to etch his performance into your memory.
[PESKY, MILDLY SPOILERIFIC YET OBLIGATORY PLOT SUMMARY PARAGRAPH BELOW ]
Hardy is Ivan Locke, a man who personifies grace under pressure. On this particular night, he's abandoning the most important construction job of his life to tend to the birth of a child he's having with a woman he hardly knows. In the middle of this lies his unsuspecting wife and children. As the tension mounts on a man who strives to put the crumbling pieces of his life back together, we watch him slightly unravel during brief "conversations" with his late father. That's about as much story you're going to get from me, and truth be told, there isn't much story to be had here. This is a small, specific film.
[END PESKY, MILDLY SPOILERIFIC YET OBLIGATORY PLOT SUMMARY PARAGRAPH]
I'm a fan of contained thrillers, as they're a true challenge to any filmmaker. BURIED, CUJO, ROPE, and PHONE BOOTH are just a few examples of this difficult genre, and some have been more successful than others. Writer/Director Steven Knight, best known for writing EASTERN PROMISES and DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, is certainly up for the assignment. LOCKE is visually repetitive (exterior car, close-up, insert of dashboard...rinse and repeat), yet the shallow focus lensing and layered reflections by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos add a warmth to the proceedings.
Let's face it, this is the Tom Hardy show. It's an 85 minute acting monologue masterpiece, if you're into such things. By the end, I admired the performance and the soothing tones in his vocal delivery, but part of me thought this be better suited as a short film. It would be a primer on how to be the best telephone operator the world has ever known. Locke REALLY knows how to juggle calls, how to put out fires, and how to find London in the rain! Locke rocks!
Sure, the human condition is laid bare in the film. The central theme of redemption is truly compelling. Your heart does go out to a man attempting the impossible task of trying to make everybody happy. Hardy transforms himself once again (this is a LONG way from Bane) into a man with a Welsh accent and a contained bearing. Imagine Anthony Hopkins reading a children's book and you'll get the idea. The kindness oozes from this man who has made some bad decisions. It's what keeps you watching. It's what makes you care. LOCKE is certainly not going to draw huge crowds. From the trailer, I thought we were in for a murder mystery. They've carefully disguised it's core essence. This is a psychological portrait of a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I admire the attempt even if I don't think it's essential viewing. Regardless, fans of Tom Hardy (which should be every living person) will find enough to enjoy.
In this R-rated drama, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager (Tom Hardy) receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his careful cultivated existence.
There's that cliché that claims you'd watch Such-and-Such actor read the phone book. Interestingly enough, we more or less get that scenario presented here. Hard sell, amazing payoff. Moving through his smart phone Rolodex in a high stakes game of attrition, Tom Hardy develops a character pretty much from a crouch. Writer/director Steven Wright pulls off an amazing hat trick, single handedly making fools out of anybody who adapts a play and makes it look stagey. This risk-taker sets every nail-biting moment of his drama in a car and the intensity never lets up.
Bottom line: Bain Glorious
I've done plenty of joking about how tedious a film this minimalist has the potential to be, but through style, sharp storytelling and engaging acting, this drama holds your attention, if not a hint of entertainment value, which makes it all the more frustrating once slow spots do, in fact, kick in, whether they be inspired by dry spells in the atmosphere that are not accompanied by busy and clever dialogue, or simply by the monotony of watching a man whose conversations with his car phone can be shown from only so many angles before it becomes impossible to accept the lack of action. Flaws such as these are very hard to cleanse from a film such as this, but if no other issue derives from the simplicity of this narrative, then it is underdevelopment, because even though there is plenty of exposition in the dialogue to spare, without dynamic plotting or visual evidence to support motivations and background, there's something missing in this intimate character drama, no matter how much material the storytellers cram into this cat's car. Simply through phone chats in a car, this film studies on the titular Ivan Locke lead's dealing with shaky business matters, marital conflicts, facing up to infidelities, confronting complications with the birth of his child of sin, and with other small conflicts within the major ones and himself, thus making for a plot that is not simply complex, but just plain convoluted, probably the last thing that I was expecting this film to be. These convolutions reflect an ambition, not to challenge artistic boundaries, but to supplement dramatic depth as compensation for shortcomings in scale, and I respect the aspirations of Steven Knight, but when the director and writer tries too hard, hints of overstylization and melodramatics accompany the narrative and thematic excesses, all in a desperate attempt to make this drama more than it can be. Ambitious, if not inspired, this film has a lot to commend, but it ultimately has to accommodate a minimalist setting, within a car on the monotonous road from Birmingham, England, to London, where all narrative are dealt with, thus, even in concept, this film has the potential to fall spectacularly flat, and as things stand, through all of the efforts, the minimalism comes to wear you down. Resonance is there, but it's challenged by a setting simplicity that limits potential, especially with the help of all of the pacing issues, expository shortcomings, convolutions and overall ambition. The final product is underwhelming on a general standard, but for what it is, it's far from the disaster that it could have been, which isn't to say that there isn't plenty to respect about the idea behind this film.
Charged by themes on taking responsibility for and facing the consequences of great mistakes, presented through the story of a man facing serious business predicaments, the premature birth of a child of adultery, and conflicts with his family, this drama's story concept may be convoluted and rather histrionic, but it is intriguing, maybe even worthwhile, and one has to at least respect the minimalist setting of this affair as unique and audacious. At the very least, this film's minimalism is justified by highlights in Steven Knight's writing, which does about as good a job as it can with fleshing out a developmentally questionable narrative, and does an even better job of holding your attention through sharp, but grounded dialogue that is almost as polished as the stylistic touches of this film. If nothing else liven this film up, it is its aesthetic value, with former Tindersticks violinist Dickon Hinchliffe delivering on a conventional, but tasteful, modernist ambient score that colors up the moments in which dialogue halts, if not flavors up the intensity of some of the most pressing dialogue bits, yet is not quite as effective as Haris Zambarloukos' beautiful cinematography, whose stylish angles, and flashy coloration and lighting which play upon the subtle palette of a night on the road. The style of the film, while occasionally overplayed, is certainly aesthetically excellent, and how it compliments substance relies on Knight's direction, which utilizes various camera angles to provide some sense of dynamicity in a setting without dynamicity, but keeps consistent in an intimacy that draws you into Ivan Locke's world, which, upon really thickening with dramatic intrigue, resonates, thanks to Knight's inspiration. Now, Knight might be more ambitious than inspired in his efforts, but such ambition charms more than it begets and emphasizes shortcomings in a noble vision, while the effectiveness of Knight's storytelling entertain and compel enough to bring some life to this very intimate drama, with a great deal of help from the acting. Although only one face is seen, this film's cast has a number of respectable talents on board, and each one of them, over the phone, are effective in his or her respective roles, with show-stealers including Ruth Wilson as a wife who feels betrayed when her husband finally comes clean about a terrible mistake, and Andrew Scott and Ben Daniels as frustrated men trying to secure business matters that are quickly becoming disastrous, and yet, it all comes back to leading man Tom Hardy, who is not given enough material to be as revelatory as he could have been in this very intimate drama, but is charmingly convincing when he tries to maintain calmness within himself and within his peers, until breakdowns in emotion and dramatic range that sell the anxiety of a man whose life may be falling a part in under two hours of driving and phoning. There are times in which Hardy is stellar, but there is never a time in which Hardy fails to carry this film, which never stood a chance of truly soaring, due to its subtle consequential shortcomings and substantial natural shortcomings, but is crafted well enough to engage about as much as it can.
When the ride is done, moments of slowness and monotony, in addition to expository shortcomings are hard to overcome in a film like this, through all of the overt ambitions that beget narrative convolutions, and a bit of overstylization and melodramatics, making it harder to ignore the natural shortcomings of this drama which is too minimalist to transcend underwhelmingness, challenged well by intriguing subject matter, a unique storytelling style, solid score work, beautiful cinematography, subtly lively and resonant direction, and across-the-board strong performances in a cast that is headed by Tom Hardy, whose charisma and powerful range help in carrying Steven Knight's "Locke" as an adequately engaging, if perhaps overly intimate study on a man confronting his mistakes.
2.5/5 - Fair