08 April 2014

"It's About Concrete"

I will watch just about any Tom Hardy film (ah hem, This Means War) — even a film about concrete that takes place almost exclusively in a car on the M6. Yes, really. I went to a preview screening of Locke last night and had time for only a cursory glance at IMDb, which somehow gave me the impression that it was some sort of crime thriller. The director's name — Steven Knight — should have given me a clue; Knight is best known for writing Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. Suffice to say, Locke isn't a crime thriller, but it's the kind of film that is most effective when you know very little about it, so although I won't spoil much, look away now if you want to watch the film fresh.

As Locke opens, a man gets into his car and heads for the motorway. Via an almost constant stream of phone calls to his BMW-integrated mobile, we learn that he is a successful construction manager named Ivan Locke and that he is driving from Birmingham to London to be present at the birth of his child. The complication is that the baby's mother, Bethan (Olivia Colman), is not his wife. This decision will have ramifications for all aspects of Ivan's life — his job, his life with his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) and sons, and his demons with his now-dead father.

But Ivan remains calm, offering rational instructions to Bethan, and to his colleagues: his deputy, Donal (Andrew "Moriarty" Scott), and his boss Gareth (Ben "House of Cards" Daniels). Ivan is supposed to be preparing for and overseeing a big concrete "pour" on one of their big building projects, which will take place in the early hours of the morning. If it goes wrong, it will cost the company hundreds of millions, and both Donal and Gareth are baffled by the reckless behaviour of Ivan, who is normally a model employee.

Ivan's "practical next steps" don't go down so well with Bethan, however. Funnily enough, women in labour don't like to be told things like: "That's a question you're asking because of the pain or something. How could I love you?" When Ivan is forced to break the news about Bethan and the baby to Katrina, she isn't too pleased either and somehow the fact that Bethan is "quite old. She's 43 or something" doesn't help. Ivan is blunt, honest and rational, but so driven by the goal of fixing all of the problems that have suddenly arisen in his life, that he lacks the social intelligence to help Bethan and Katrina, even if it means telling a white lie or two. He keeps driving, though, addressing, at several points, the ghost of his father. It is at these moments that Hardy's thick Welsh accent verges on hammy.

He also seems to have a cold and is clearly exhausted and distracted, taking his eye off the road to think or to look up a phone number to give to Donal to help to save the pour. Given the busy motorway, the viewer is left on edge, convinced that disaster will strike — with so many fires for Ivan to fight, how can it not? Really, though, he just drives towards the inevitable, trying to do the right thing in a bad situation and not to make the same mistakes as his father. Ivan's surname is hardly coincidental, of course, even if this isn't a film about 17th century philosophers. I also noticed that the beginning of his registration plate read "ADIO" — a corruption of addio or adios (the Italian and Spanish for "farewell"), perhaps?

Locke is only 85 minutes long and it takes place in real time, which leaves you feeling that you've just braved the M6 yourself. It's interesting because a lot happens and nothing happens, depending on how you look at it; some may find it unsatisfying, but I enjoyed it; as much as you can enjoy the snapshot of a man in crisis, anyway.

Knight's film a tense thriller, but not a typical thriller; it is tautly plotted and with a masterful performance from Hardy, who manages to portray Ivan as both frustrating in his determination to be truthful and logical, and yet still somehow sympathetic. And Hardy has to be good, really, because the other cast members are heard and not seen. Wilson and especially Colman do a good job as Ivan's women, though, and Scott is fun as Ivan's beleaguered underling.

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