After an extensive festival run that began last September with its Venice premiere, Steven Knight's "Locke" finally makes it to cinemas this weekend. Intense, moving, and at times astonishing, this film is a delightful piece that's incredibly engaging.
The film's biggest special effect is its only on-camera actor, Tom Hardy, giving another of his rock-solid performances that helps once again solidify his reputation as one of the finest thespians of his generation.
So, what's the story?
A foreman of a construction company gets into his BMW X3, and starts driving as quickly as he can from Birmingham in northern England down to London. Along the way he answers and makes a few phone calls.
That's it? We're stuck in a truck with a guy on his cellphone for 90 minutes?
That sounds boring as hell.
Nope. Not only is it exciting, but thanks to Hardy's impeccable skills, "Locke" proves to be one of the most exhilarating films of the year.
From balancing the major work that needs to be done in his absence to coming to terms with his family situation, there's almost no time where you're not on edge, feeling Ivan Locke's pain.
With such a claustrophobic setting, it's almost impossible not be drawn into the immediacy and intimacy of Locke's situation. He's messed up, to be sure, but in trying to make things right and make the best out of impossible situations, we can immediately empathize with the waves of emotion that crash over the driver in series.
Am I going to get carsick from this?
Decked out with a series of high resolution digital cameras, the photography is stellar and free from the stupidity of shaky-cam. The camera placement makes the vehicular setting of "Locke" feel like a paradoxical mix of the familiar and the unique.
With close-up shots of Hardy's performance, we can almost feel his tears, responding time after time as tensions rise and ebb. Hardy's fine, gravelly voice and northern lilt has a soothing quality, and the performances by his co-actors (those who call in) provide the only real clue to the events occurring outside the walls of Locke's ride.
Is this nothing more than an experiment then?
Well, it's true, you can think of this as experimental cinema, but it's of the highest order. It feels a lot like an exceptional stage play, with a single person on his stage providing a mix of soliloquy and offstage discussion. Yet there's nothing obnoxious or trite about the film's execution -- the hook, the notion of the one guy driving at night to reach his destination, is neither superfluous nor silly.
Well, that sounds pretty unique.
"Locke" certainly feels fresh and original, but also very much an accessible narrative film. In some ways, the film echoes another masterful film that played festivals last September, Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity," especially the scene where Bullock's character corresponds with the Greenlandic Inuit and his barking dogs.
As we become more and more connected in virtual ways, we are able to construct entire worlds in our imaginations at the other end of a phone call, responding to the subtlest of verbal cues or inflections, dreading the tear-filled responses, and aggravated by what seems to be incompetence or laxity from those we call upon to help in our absence.
So, should I go see it in theatres or wait to see it at home?
This is one of those rare films that actually would work fine on a small screen, provided you were watching without distraction and in a darkened environment. Part of the magic of it lies in becoming absorbed into the film's setting, and a theatrical experience is likely to be your best bet for that to occur.
Plus, given the wonderful micro-expressions that exceptional performers like Hardy rely upon to provide depth of character -- the tiniest of movements of the muscles around the eyes or the tightening of muscles around the lips -- a bigger screen may well drive you even further into the conflicted mindset of the film's protagonist.
"Locke" is a terrific little film; despite its closed-in setting, it never feels overtheatrical or contrived. This is the perfect blend of setting and performance, and combined with exceptional editing and a subtle score by Dickon Hinchliffe, there's a lot to love about this film.
"Locke" opens in theatres on May 9.