Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steven Knight and Tom Hardy turn LOCKE into an original and compelling "confined space" film

If LOCKE is a stunt -- and to some extent, it certainly is -- then it's a damned good one. This is one of those increasingly frequent "confined-space" movies  (with the exception of its initial scene, in which the title character, played by Tom Hardy leaves a construction site, gets into his car and drives away) where every-thing takes place inside an enclosed space -- that car -- from which no exit seems easily possible. The odd thing about Locke, however, is that it is not a thriller, the genre into which every other confined space film I can think of -- from ATM to Brake, Buried, Elevator, Freezer and Last Passenger (which also opens this week and takes place entirely on a train) -- neatly fits. And why not? With enough events front-loaded, that confined space just increases the thrills. But no: Locke is... well, it's a drama for adults. How's that from a movie-maker -- Steven Knight -- who clearly has quite the pair of balls.

Mr. Knight, shown at left, has been more prolific as screenwriter (Dirty Pretty Things, Amazing Grace and Eastern Promises are among his many efforts) than as a director (Redemption), but Locke may change all that. So compelling an actor is Mr. Hardy and so specific and alert is Knight's script to the life and problems of his character (whose name is Ivan Locke) that, together, they turn the movie into a tour de force of feeling, emotion, anger, surprise and even a little humor. How? Knight lets his audience slowly learn where Locke is going and why, while simultaneously allowing us understand what this means to the life this man had led up until now. Knight and Hardy manage all this via phone conversations -- which cannot be overly expository or we'd simply not buy them -- that fill in everything from situation to character.

Locke talks to his wife, his son, another woman who is important to him, his boss, an underling, and a couple of other people, all of whom come across marvelously, thanks to voice casting and talent. (Among the voices are those of Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Tom Holland.)

There is a job at stake and a family life that may be shattered, and Mr. Hardy's fine performance captures all of it and more -- lots of tiny moments that add up to "character" -- his, and the folk to whom he is speaking. The plot -- and yes, there is one -- is derived from all these conversations, which build into something quite special.

Aurally, the movie is magnificent. I don't see how you could ask for much more, sound-wise. (If broadcast during the heyday of radio, Locke would have been an award-winning drama). Visually, there are times when I think more could have been done -- the camera remains on or near our man, occasionally glancing out the windshield or at the car phone by which these many calls are being made -- but thanks to Hardy's face and talent, Locke at least comes close enough for jazz.

Marriage, fidelity, parenting, employment: the themes here are big ones, and they are given their due. So wrapped up do we become in Ivan's situation that by the finale, when we hear a certain sound -- one, by the way, that we've heard countless times before -- such a flood of emotion/satisfaction/healing is released that we're likely to be caught by surprise at how very moved we suddenly are.

Locke, from A24 and running just 85 minutes, opens this Friday, April 25, in New York City at the AMC Lincoln Square 13 and the Angelika Film Center, and then on Friday, May 2, it will open in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Raphael.  To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then click on THEATERS. (The movie's site could use some updating, however, as the Los Angeles entry seems to have the wrong theater and the wrong date....)

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