Locke (85 minutes, Rated R)
Since the entire movie takes place with Ivan Locke on the phone, the voice acting needs to be superb: and for the most part it is. The voice cast is rounded out by the ‘who’s who’ of modern British entertainment: Olivia Colman (Hot Fuzz), Ruth Wilson (Luther), Andrew Scott (Sherlock), and even television actor Ben Daniels. Somehow Steven Knight gets these voice actors to deliver layered performances, while seemingly limited by the confines of the medium. Each major voice role gets their own developed story-arch; yes, the smaller roles are there to progress the story, but the major characters get their chance to make an impact on the seemingly sane Ivan.
Locke is an experimental film from Steven Knight: the man who made the little seen Jason Statham vehicle Redemption. Now, the director has decided to take an interesting stunt and turn it into an 85-minute invigorating sophomore effort. And for the most part it works; Locke takes a very simple premise to show the most interesting character study that I have seen in quite some time. The entire movie takes place in real time, as Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) drives to London. And though its seemingly simple, yet melodramatic plot can be seen as a detriment: the script, voice acting, and the fact that this is Tom Hardy’s magnum opus elevates the overall product.
And Ivan has to be one of the most interesting observations of modern masculinity in the last few years; he seems like the only sane person in the room, yet his actions causes the upheaval in the first place. Ivan’s attempt to rationalize his infidelity with his ‘honor code,’ results in futile attempts to ‘pick up the pieces of his life.’ Meanwhile, this seemingly stoic person slowly loses stability as his car drifts towards London; but even when Ivan becomes indecorous to those around him, his character never becomes the mentally unstable cliché that is a staple of modern movies. As expected from his character, Ivan tries to optimistically make an impossible situation work; he continuously loses sight of what is important when attempting to balance his job and marriage, which to him are both equally his responsibility. With that said, if the character was played by anyone other than Tom Hardy, the humanity of the character could have been easily lost.
Tom Hardy has been the ‘next big star’ for years, however, he has never portrayed such a humane character in his career. While not a ‘method actor,’ he loses himself into every one of his roles, which is what separates him from most of Hollywood. When I watch movies like Warrior or Bronson, which are both above average affairs, I do not see Tom Hardy acting: I see Charles Bronson or Tommy Conlon. Yet, for the first time Tom Hardy loses himself into the ‘every man role,’ which always seemed out of his wheelhouse. But his collective performance blends into Locke: Hardy changes the pitch of his voice, while developing certain ‘tics’ that brings the character to life, especially during the quieter scenes.
With that said, Ivan Locke is a man with a simple code: the audience finds out that this code of ethics developed from his childhood with an absent father. And though his monologues to his dead dad seem to be the unraveling of the character, these poignant scenes represent Locke’s subconscious need to prove that he is not his father. The writer and director, Steven Knight, could have forced a father character into the picture, but he sticks to Hardy’s performance, which is the a necessity: the lack of a man in the back seat, in my opinion, keeps the audience’s focus and emotional connection with Locke. And these little choices by Steven Knight are, for the most part, why this experimental picture works: he knows that Hardy is the main draw and very rarely loses focus of that.
And Knight’s script somehow makes the subjects of infidelity and concrete into suspenseful material. The audience cares for Locke trying to reconcile with his wife, but at the same time, hopes that Europe’s biggest concrete pour goes according to plan. And in both storylines, the writer attempts to foil Locke’s plans, but the somewhat importance of these situations is lost when Locke is reminded of what is waiting for him at the end of the ‘rabbit hole:’ a newborn. And the seemingly cynical result of the night is lost when Locke hears that crying baby, which makes the audience wonder was it all worth it?
And the fact that this end had me questioning the worth of this emotionally taxing evening, means that this simple premise, with fantastic dialogue, subverted my own emotional expectations of this character piece. And in the end, I must commend Steven Knight’s script and simple direction that kept me enthralled for 85-minutes; while the script is the highlight, the pace, which keeps the audience interested throughout, reveals Knight’s subtle skills behind the camera. Yes, Locke contains the over used blurry traffic effect, but the few over-stylized shots do not take away from the previously mentioned main draw of the picture, Tom Hardy. And one has to commend a director that can keep an audience attentive while watching such a simple premise.
As Locke came to close and I watched the annoying stylized blurry shots of traffic, I realized that though this is not a perfect film, it is one of the best character studies that I have seen in a long time. Tom Hardy gives his best performance to date as the pragmatic Ivan Locke, whose own actions drive his seemingly normal life into chaos. And again, Hardy’s humane performance mixed with his chameleon tendencies keeps Knight’s picture moving. And though Knight’s direction ‘leaves a lot to be desired,’ his inadequacies are forgotten when talking about the wonderful pacing of the movie. In the end, Locke left me emotionally satisfied with a near perfect story; and it is a movie that I will not forget, especially when it comes time to talk about my favorite films at the end of the year.