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!

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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.

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