Tuesday, May 20, 2014
LOCKE (Steven Wright, 2013)
While the future of the planet often hangs in the balance in action and superhero movies, LOCKE puts one man’s world in jeopardy and is no less tense because of the more intimate scale. Writer-director Steven Knight sets the film almost entirely inside a BMW that Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is driving to London for a reason that gradually gets revealed. On the eve of a major job the construction foreman takes off knowing full well that his actions will lead to his firing. Conscientious to a fault, he still plans to talk a co-worker through the steps needed to prepare for the big pour the next morning. Locke also uses the car’s in-dash system to stay in communication with his family and the anxious woman he’s going to see.
Information is scarce at first in LOCKE, so all markers in the situation are fraught with possibilities. Locke is ill and gets choked up telling one of his sons that he loves him. Might he have been poisoned and has just an hour or two to live? Considering the importance of what he’s abandoning, is someone twisting his arm? The answers turn out to be more ordinary than films like this lead us to anticipate. Locke had a one night stand with his lonely 43-year-old assistant Bethan (Olivia Colman) during an out-of-town assignment. She is now in the hospital to give birth to his child two months early and has no one else to turn to, which is why he’s racing to see her and potentially ruining a fifteen-year-old marriage that has produced two sons. Still furious at his own father’s absence and poor example, Locke is compelled to be at the birth and provide the baby with his name.
With its single, confined setting and Hardy’s face the only one seen on screen, LOCKE runs the risk of being a gimmicky exercise in working with creative limitations. Wright’s decision to have Locke speak with his father as if he’s a ghost along for the ride is a theatrical flourish that doesn’t hit the mark, but otherwise he manages the smallness to the film’s advantage. The car is Locke’s master control room from where everyone he needs to reach is a button away. It’s also an oasis shielding him from the consequences of his choices until he’s off the expressway.
There are only so many camera set-ups available inside and outside the automobile, but Hardy holds attention by making his character hard to read despite having access to his private thoughts and feelings. Locke assesses and acts on his predicament in purely rational terms and sticks to noble and reckless choices. Ironically, this has the effect of making him more unpredictable. His journey remains suspenseful because Locke thinks everything can be solved by following the proper procedures. From phone call to phone call the camera lingers on the only visually present actor as Locke methodically attends to matters at home, the workplace, and the hospital. Hardy’s calmness suggests everything will be all right, yet this faith in doing what he perceives as the right thing, even if it ruins his marriage and career, is contrary to everything else he believes. As a builder he knows that if a foundation fails, everything on it crumbles too. Nevertheless, he’s willing to take that chance with his life. His process is riveting to watch.