Locke (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Locke (2014)

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Construction foreman Ivan Locke lives either on the phone or at his job site, never far away from one or the other.  On the night before a large construction project begins he begins a long overnight drive for reasons unknown.  Is he running?  Locke is written and directed by Steven Knight and stars Tom Hardy.

It's going to be a long nightTom Hardy has played the rebel in Bronson, to the revolutionary figure in The Dark Knight Rises, and the pained solider in Warrior.  What each of these roles establish is Hardy's ability to find the false emotional face of masculinity, and with that breathe new lives into these giants.  But those roles have Hardy in the service of sometimes mythic images, with the man getting a bit lost behind the stories.

All credit to screenwriter and director Steven Knight for keeping this moral tale clocked in at barely an hour and twenty minutes, but that time serves one purpose - to let Tom Hardy give one of the best performances of his career, and one of the peak performances of 2014.  It's fitting that the only other performers who could challenge this are also in films distributed from A24, Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy and Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin, with a firm nod to Macon Blair in Blue Ruin.

But Locke is nothing but Hardy.  We are trapped in his face and mannerisms, the voice rising to meet challenges and shaking to sink from the fear of what his wife may do, and sinking into his seat as he realizes that he may not be man enough to walk the moral road he chose.  Knight gives Hardy the chance to act out a tale that is purely moral, with some smart cinematography along the way, and suggests that taking the hard, good, path makes all the difference in the world.


As strong as his voice is, he shirks at the markers of the responsibility he is driving toward.

Even before we discover why Ivan Locke (Hardy) is on the road this night, listen to his voice.  Hardy plays Locke as a man with unflappable control over the tone and precision of his words.  Fitting that he would conduct most of his business on the phone and make sure that no one is more than a flick of a switch away.  But listen to him navigate the many angry and desperate conversations he has over the night as that control is a distancing mechanism.  When greeted with rage, he turns up the charm, and when showered with unwanted affection, he downplays the love as though he is reading a particularly boring word in the dictionary.

This control over his voice is critical, and showcases just how weak a man he is.  No matter how strong he is, or how many times he tries to sway the conversation his way, he is a constant nervous wreck.  Hardy shifts and gets sidelong glances at himself as he tries to reason his way out of adultery with his wife, he looks ready to lose control and rip up the dashboard as he berates a coworker, and goes rigid as he closes off his body to the affection his one-time mistress shows him.  This is a man who needs the phone because he can't handle the physical reality of these people, he needs to distance himself so that he can function, and so he can figure out the right thing to do.

Even though the space is restricted to the vehicle, there is no shortage of evocative imagery to suggest Locke's ethical crisis.

Even though the space is restricted to the vehicle, there is no shortage of evocative imagery to suggest Locke's ethical crisis.

Locke, even though it is Hardy's one-man show on a performance angle, is also a morality play.  This is where Knight's script is crucial to keeping the focus squarely on Locke and Hardy's performance.  Information is doled out slowly, so that we find out that the choice that Locke has made to go to the hospital and see the child he has fathered with another woman, comes from an impulsive side that no one expected from him.  This is not a story for grandstanding as the tense bursts of detail make it so that no one conversation can be predicted on the basis of the previous.  The one effective moment where this breaks is when Locke has had enough of his coworker's mucking about and reveals that if even one calculation slightly off the construction project he is working on will shift the water table and bring the thousands of tons of building crashing down.  It may seem a broad metaphor for his current predicament, but by the time this moment has arrived the smaller exchanges justify the evoked image.

Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos ingeniously follows up on these cracks in Locke's psyche by creating golden bars that cover him when he is angry, or bar him from looking back to the father who he blames for his emotional state.  Zambarloukos finds many ways to mirror Locke's mental state, either as a blip in his rear-view mirror when he is ranting against his unseen father, or when he doubts his actions and is reflected against both the side-view mirror and window with each a fading double of the other.  Locke's view of himself changes through passenger, driver, memory, and vague reflection, each with a distinct transition thanks to the careful camera installation inside and outside the vehicle.

All this culminates in how Locke arrived to his decision and ends on a surprisingly hopeful note.  Many of the best films this year have centered on lonely people separated from their natural life in some way and make the wrong choices to try and get back.  Locke takes a different approach, and struggles with our hero the moment he has made the decision to do the right thing.  This is not easy and Locke does not pretend that there will be anything left for him when the sun comes up.  But for now, with one beautiful glint in his eyes at the end, Hardy shows us the contortions and physical stress of just trying to be a good person.  If he succeeds is not important, but that he tried.

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Tail - LockeLocke (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Steven Knight.
Starring Tom Hardy.

Posted by Andrew

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