' ' Cinema Romantico: Locke

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


"I have a list of things to do tonight while I'm driving." This is what Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) says to his son via hands-free phone as his swank BMW rolls along the motorway between Birmingham and London, and it's one of the more dryly hilarious movie lines of the year. He refers to "list" as if it consists of eggs and milk and toilet paper and Double AA batteries. In reality it involves talking a cider-soused subordinate through the supervision of erecting "the biggest single concrete wall ever made in Europe outside of nuclear military projects" and confessing to his wife that he's not only cheated on her - he's on his way to the birth of the son his affair has wrought.

The hook of the film is that it's set entirely within the confines of the car, his only interactions handled via phone. It sounds gimmicky, sure, yet there is an undercoating of truth in the premise. Take "Phone Booth", a thriller that concocted a storyline solely to keep its protagonist squeezed into the titular object for ninety minutes, whatever the cost. "Locke", for all its intended claustrophobia, never feels phony. After all, ours is a world spent primarily on the phone, walking, talking, scrolling, conducting meetings on an earpiece in the bathroom. Time waits for no mobile device!

That said, there is no doubt in my mind that Tom Hardy took up director Steven Knight's offer for the singular role as a challenge. He's that kind of actor, and he's also an actor who delights in tricking out his voice. Whether it was "Warrior", where he spoke with a bowlful of Pennsylvanian mush, or "The Dark Knight Rises", where he seemed to have undergone some sort of space-aged auto tune, he's clearly taken with the concept of vocalization as an actorly tool. In this film, however, he simply employs his own charming English lilt, and it's incredibly effective.

On the phone, he's consistently calm, reasoned, clearly skilled at delegating. When he talks to the nurse at the hospital, he twice coolly corrects her that he's simply the "father", nothing more, nothing less. When he confesses his awe-inspiring unfaithful idiocy to his wife, his follow-up involves "a practical next step". But when he's off the phone......he lets it all go. He screams, he pounds the steering wheel, he has invective dialogue with himself.

Those external monologues are convincing in as much as so many of us have conversations with ourselves in the car, and they helpfully explain the Ivan Locke backstory that would have been impossible to receive otherwise. And that backstory, concerning his own absentee father, is meant to illuminate why he might apparently turn away his current family for a new one.

That age-old analysis, however, is less interesting than examining the metaphorical parallel the screenplay (also by Knight) manfactures quite broadly via this concrete wall that will form the foundation of a new building. If the concrete is not poured right then the wall won't be structurally sound and the if the wall is not structurally sound than the whole building, eventually, will come tumbling down. You know, like his marriage, and Hardy's best bit of acting involves expressing the belief that in making his one colossal mistake he has wiped out any chance of making amends. He believes in building, not re-building. At the same time, he also wants to give his new son a proper start to life, one he was not afforded and that perhaps led directly to this end. And so, pradoxically, his motives are as noble as they are selfish.

Of course, for all the talk of cement, the whole film, as stated, is set in a car, and the automobile has long been a mechanized emblem of escapes and fresh starts. And Ivan Locke, his face so often framed in swirling street side reflections that seem to make the car momentarily vanish and suspend him in a neon nowhere, disappears into the void between them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I heard this movie was good, although I haven't seen it yet. I am a big fan of Tom Hardy. Buried is another movie that keeps the character in one place the entire time, and I thought it was very good! Phone Booth is one of those movies I have yet to see (no surprise there, haha). Great review, Nick!