Locke – Steven Knight and the midnight flight. (Film Review)
It’s not quite the museum piece Steven Knight might have been hoping for, but Locke certainly is a remarkable one-man-show of a film that is smart and classy enough to be a game changer for Knight as a director and for Tom Hardy as a remarkably skillful leading man. One of those films that tends to lead everyone involved onto something bigger and better, it is a tightly edited little ninety minutes of finely woven suspense as an audience in the dark watches in horror as a good man’s life falls down around his ears, primarily because he is arrogant enough to think that all problems can be muddled through if every one just acts rationally. Steven Knights real talent, or rather the talent he is known for, is as a writer, and even though Locke’s metaphors are sledge-hammer in their relentlessness, it works pitted against the nuanced performance by Hardy and the claustrophobic confines of the setting, which is almost entirely within Ivan Locke’s car.
Fortunately the script is beautifully written and like the film, tightly edited. As I said above, metaphors are laboured: Ivan Locke’s job is to pour concrete, proving he is rock solid; he drives in one direction, hoping to be able to turn and drive back the way he came; As he speeds down the freeway toward new life, his old life explodes behind him and so on. If it wasn’t for the pared down nature of the script and the truly remarkable performance by Tom Hardy, the perpetual metaphor and similes would be ridiculous, but Hardy has a way of being a legion inside this character that frees Knights constant referencing from itself. Hardy ignore the metaphors, and just delivers them with perfection, which gives us a kind of permission to assume they are subtle. besides this, the dialogue is beautiful, if a little far-fetched at times (it was very difficult to believe that the two major disasters that occur to Ivan Locke would actually happen to this character) and perfectly encapsulates the moral dilemma at the core of Locke.
That dilemma turns out to be the study of what makes a man good and what makes a man bad. Are there some mistakes that cannot be recovered from? It’s the age-old christian question – sometimes its easier to die for your cause than to live for it. If you go out in a blaze of glory your sins are easily forgiven, but if you stand fortuitously through life, if you take pride in your work and your relationships, if you want the best in all your actions, your one small error of judgement can bring the whole house of cards down around your ears. Who are we being when we refuse to forgive the person who has stood for us so steadfastly for more than a decade their error, no matter how large? Who are we when we take something for granted, even for a second, that is the foundation of our life? As Locke shouts down the phone to his assistant, just fifteen millimeters in the wrong direction for the pour, and a twenty-two story building will develop cracks and fall. The higher our moral character, the more those cracks start to show and the further the distance what we treasure has to fall. When Ivan Locke promises to never be his father, he forgets about the danger of shaky foundations and the impact of the pour.
And yet, what else in there in life other than the improvement of our foundations and the fight for the buildings, real and emotional that we have built? “Why am I doing this?” asks Donal, “For those assholes in Chicago?” “No,” says Locke. “You’re doing it for the building. For our little piece of the sky, for the piece of air it will take up.” We are not attentive to our homes, faithful to spouses, brilliant at our jobs or devoted to our children for the other – although we might tell ourselves we are and we will certainly tell them we are. We are good, upright and strong because it is a better life, because it is a gift to ourself, because self-mastery is the only battle to be fought, and it is in this giant yawp that Steven Knights writing tends to falter, because it becomes difficult as we get to know Locke to believe a man of this integrity and stature would have made the error of judgement that he made that got him into this mess, and it impossible to believe those around him would have no recourse other than to cut him off. But then, perhaps a courageous life like Ivan Locke’s is one that calls forth that final judgement in others, the refusal to accept any mistake that stands out all the more for the lack of them? When we face the judgement day of our own making, we will learn why so many before us have run.
Amid all this anxiety is beautiful cinematography work from Haris Zambarloukos who uses RED Epic cameras with old Panavision anamorphic lenses that work to create a beautiful looking film, but also a vision of a long car drive that we are familiar with. There is never any doubt that Ivan Locke is trapped inside his car, trying to keep his life from falling apart, and all the tropes of night-time car vision, such as reflections and muted lights but it is Justine Wrights editing talents that ensure the film contains the perfect balance of tension focussed around Locke and audience relief as we see the living beauty of the drive down the motorway. The ninety minutes comes from around fifty hours and it shows, every small detail having been attended to and contributing to the mounting suspense of the film.
Locke may not be the best film of the year, but it is one that will encourage debate long into the night, and you will be glad to say you saw it on the big screen.