Review: LOCKE (2014) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

Steven Knight’s new film Locke, starring Tom Hardy was premiered on the closing night film of the 20th Bradford International Film Festival. However, GIRL ON FILM decided to save this review until the week of its release in the UK. If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review, here’s the place to be!


Much of Tom Hardy’s career could be characterised in much the same way as a coiled spring. A brute with the cinematic machismo of young Marlon Brando, Hardy has excelled playing dangerously unpredictable characters such as the notorious prison inmate Charles Bronson, the larger than life and nearly indecipherable Bane in the latest Batman franchise and was even perfectly cast as the wild Heathcliff in a flawed television adaptation of Wuthering Heights.

In Locke, Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a construction worker who, confined within his car throughout the film, conducts various phone calls as he drives through the night to London. Unlike many reviews of the film which have been released over the Easter weekend, I shan’t go into too much detail about the plot, but much can be taken from the BIFF director, Neil Young’s description of Knight’s second directorial effort as being a “small film” in terms of its cinematic scope and its surprising narrative dilemma which plays out over 80 minutes. You could be forgiven in assuming that this was Hardy’s own Drive, the film which rendered Ryan Gosling mostly speechless as he drove through a night time landscape and battled demons of his own. But this is a different vehicle altogether (pardon the pun), despite the initial surface similarities. Often discussed as having a radio play format, Locke is a portrait study in which the character sees his life fall apart for apparently undramatic and not-so-film-worthy reasons. No, his daughter hasn’t been taken hostage and no, his family are not trapped at the top of a building on Christmas Eve, this is simply a man who is determined in his decisions and certain of the path he must take in order to correct the mistakes he has made. Excellent voice appearances during the many back and forth phone conversations are superbly handled and acted and leaves much of the exterior scenes and plot contrivances to the viewer’s imagination. We too are only able to ‘hear’ the effects of his actions, both personally and professionally, and we become all to aware that the man who started the car journey at the beginning of the film is no longer the man who would potentially finish it.

Thematically, Locke works in much the same vein as Eastern Promises, the David Cronenberg film which Steven Knight also provided the screenplay. Like Locke, Eastern Promises is a film which unfolds into something which might not be immediately clear from the set-up. Described as a Russian mob film set in London, it slowly becomes more concerned with how corrupt society can have the deepest effect on the family and issue scars that will have life-long consequences. Eastern Promises is at its most surprising as a domestic drama, following one woman’s fight to save a child and understand the circumstances to which it was born. Locke has similar home-grown concerns and it is in those moments where Locke speaks to his children as he drives further and further away from them that the film really reveals its true allegiances in terms of genre. That’s not to say of course that the film isn’t supremely tense, at times threatening to send Hardy’s bedraggled and bearded protagonist to insanity as he struggles to break free from the patterns of his very nature.

Locke is a brave and yet reassuringly familiar sort of film, mixing elements film fans will recognise to create a new sort of beast entirely. The road movie with heart, it is schizophrenic in its ability to genre-hop and yet is decidedly one-tracked in its limited-setting format. Poignant and funny, tense and heart-stopping in the unlikeliest of moments, I think it’s Tom Hardy’s most approachable and grown-up performance to date.


Review: IN BRUGES (2008) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

Ken: Ray, come on, let’s go.
Ray: My arse, ‘Let’s go.’ They’re filming midgets!

To celebrate the ‘Virgin Media Best of BIFF’, twenty years of the northern festival, a surprise screening of In Bruges was on hit list for the last day of the Bradford-based celebrations. Arriving to the sight of Brian Cox pulling up in a sponsored car outside the National Media Museum, pomp and circumstance was quickly left behind as we delved into the murky world of two Irish assassins lying low in Belgium after a job gone wrong.

Starring Colin Farrell as Ray (in a career-best turn) and the ever-reliable Brendan Gleeson as Ken, In Bruges has become a bit of a cult favourite after its release in 2008. Premièring on the opening night of the 14th edition of the festival, it has only gained in critical and fan acclaim from word-of-mouth, DVD sales and television airings ever since.


Watching Colin Farrell’s eyebrows and Ralph Fiennes’ teeth on an IMAX screen was certainly memorable, but it was once again Martin McDonagh’s script which shone. Serendipitously, Channel Four had shown his brother’s (John Michael McDonagh) The Guard the evening before, and with the festival hosting screenings of his latest collaboration Calvary, it was fitting that this would be the film as chosen by the public to celebrate home-grown talent at the festival. It was certainly a unique experience to settle in our seats without quite knowing exactly what were going to see…and the 18 certificate warning as we entered the auditorium was a tantalising clue. Hilarious, violent and surprisingly poignant at times, In Bruges is a masterpiece. It upturns the general expectations of a gritty hit-man flick and sprinkles it with humorous one-liners and incidences which together pull a motley crew of characters who are impossible to wholly dislike: think Grosse Pointe Blank meets Withnail and I.  Futhermore, Fiennes is unnerving as Farrell and Gleeson’s absent boss, his presence towers over the narrative, though when he does finally grace the screen, his monstrous persona is explosive, and not even desk telephones can escape his wrath.

Considering themes of retribution, guilt, faith and redemption, In Bruges can move swiftly from surreal encounters with “racist midgets” to moments of great solemnity. And though light relief is never far from most scenes in this film, it is explicitly clear that these characters have been banished to Bruges and occupy their own kind of purgatory: exiled from those working above them, both earthly and divine. The film however, never strays too far away from pointing out how stupid these characters can be, and though we want them to lead happier, less blood-splattered lives, we fear they will always revert to the gun-toting tropes they have been sketched into:

Harry: I suppose you’ve got a gun up there?
Ray: Yeah.
Harry: Then what are we gonna do? We can’t stand here all night.
Marie: Why don’t you both put your guns down and go home?
Harry: Don’t be stupid. This is the shootout.

A perfect example of the shape of Irish and British filmmaking today, In Bruges is a delight, instantly quotable and forever a classic in the making. In Bruges had stiff competition to win the ‘Virgin Media Best of BIFF’ poll which included the likes of Trainspotting, This Is England, Slumdog Millionaire, Four Lions and Casino Royale amongst others, but easily muscled out the competition with its ability to switch tone, illustrate characters and deliver comical dialogue at such a speed that you risk whip-lash just sitting in the cinema. Highly recommended.

Review: ORLANDO (1992) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

It is no exaggeration to claim that Sally Potter and Tilda Swinton are heroines of cinema. Seven years of preparation and persuasion led to them finally making the sumptuous and majestic Orlando in 1992. Adapted from the renowned Virginia Woolf novel, would it be inaccurate to claim Orlando as one of the most interesting fictional hero/ines of all time? He/she is certainly no ordinary character, never aging for 400 years and navigating the courts of Elizabeth I (played, ingeniously by Quentin Crisp), Charles II and eventually waking up as a woman to survive the stuffy Victorian age and the emerging 20th century.

Swinton defines her androgynous appeal, easily embodying the pixie-like Elizabethan courtier who encounters the patronage of the queen and yet is absolutely feminine as she wakes as a restless female in the 18th century. Swinton’s facets of gender neutralises Orlando, making the character a symbol of non-conformity. In one scene, in which Orlando learns that she no longer has claim to her lands now that she is a woman, we see how being transformed as a woman, Orlando is nullified by her contemporaries:

First Official: One, you are legally dead, and therefore cannot hold any property whatsoever.
Orlando: Ah. Fine.
First Official: Two, you are now a female.
Second Official: Which amounts to much the same thing.

Orlando’s death (or, her transformation into womanhood) is a catalyst for a sprawling epic tale already 200 years in the making. Interspersed with title cards such as ‘LOVE’, ‘DEATH’, ‘POETRY’, ‘POLITICS’ and ‘SEX’, Sally Potter divides Orlando’s life into connecting scenes of incidences which together paint a portrait of a multi-generational protagonist, task with staying young forever and yet growing ever more mature in life experiences.

Some we know to be dead even though they walk among us; some are not yet born though they go through all the forms of life; other are hundreds of years old though they call themselves thirty-six. (Woolf, ‘Orlando’, 1928)

Quite simply, this film is magnificently cinematic. From the music, composed by David Motion, Sally Potter and Jimmy Somerville, to the ornate costumes by Sandy Powell, it is amazing to learn this film struggled to find funding. The splendour of every frame is bewitching. The Jarman-esque quality of the narrative and the style roots the film firmly in the early 1990s, not only characterised by its modernised ending, but in the film’s allegiance with the sexual revolution permeating culture and politics in the last decade of the century. A particular pleasure is Swinton’s forth-wall-breaking asides to the camera, which could be interpreted as a charming tribute to Woolf, whose own works were littered with addresses to the reader.

It’s true to say that I was completely mesmerised by this film. Entering into the phantasmagorical world of Orlando, a dreamlike, incongruous world where the constraints of gender, power and possession are swept along by a sequence of events as fantastic as they are allegorical. A typically colourful report of Sally Potter dodging slates thrown from the roof of the old Bradford Odeon as she was escorted to the Media Museum by the festival co-director Neil Young was an amusing introduction to last night’s film. It’s good to know that no matter how utterly transformative cinema can be, in the instance of Orlando, you can always rely on being brought gently back to world. Wherever yours may be.