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Locke PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
02 05 2014

ImageDirected by Steven Knight

A man drives away from his job and his home late one night, his life disintegrating with every mile and every hand-free phone conversation. Tom Hardy as construction engineer Ivan Locke is the only character on screen, mostly in full face close-up. He's a man who has ‘always run a tight ship' in his professional life, has a close, sound, family life, and clearly rarely does anything unconsidered, as his deliberate and thoughtful delivery indicates. But one wrong act - and that indeed done out of a generous motive - is unravelling his life.

Any thoughts you might have had coming into this film of it's being some kind of radio play with ideas above its station are immediately cast aside - despite Tom Hardy's mellifluous Welsh tones being strongly reminiscent of, and equally seductive as, Dylan Thomas's in the big daddy of all radio plays Under Milk Wood. Its whole essence is filmic. It's not just that Hardy's face is infinitely interesting in its nuances as the damage that he knows will come unfurls from his actions, it's the surprisingly mesmeric effect of night time driving as lights blur and meld and shadowy doubles and triples of his face swim around reflected in windscreen and side windows.

At the mercy of long-distance communication, he's good at telling people everything will be alright, they will cope, he will be where he says he will, but aspects of life are beyond his control, as the waiting, demanding, woeful calls pile up on his screen. ‘I'll explain when I get there', ‘wait till I am with you' are his constant mantra, but emotions won't wait, and unlike ‘his' concrete waiting to be poured in the ‘biggest operation of its kind in Europe' in the morning, that can be checked and perfected, it's hard to get the shoring up of close relationships fixed at a distance.

The dilapidation of his life is always seen as a moral conundrum as well as emotionally moving, and it can be no coincidence that his name recalls not just that other dislocated wanderer, Jack Nicholson's David Locke in Antonioni's The Passenger, but John Locke the philosopher who was the first to describe man as ‘that conscious thinking thing'. Locke is a thinking man, whose painful consciousness of his moral dilemma and the un-mendability of his actions we're acutely aware of as the tiniest tightenings of his expression undercut his calm and authoritative delivery. Stuck as he is in a situation where there is no clearly right thing to do, he juggles his responsibilities at a distance in a suspenseful way that's just as thrilling as many a murder or adventure romp. We hold our breath as he instructs an increasingly punch-drunk subordinate (Andrew Scott) to check concrete shuttering (although it's at the other end of a phone, I feel I've actually watched that desperate sprint down through the dark to fetch the Polish road-mending gang from their lamplit work). Who'd have thought concrete could be so exciting! Success on one operation means you almost forget about the bad stuff. But meanwhile the agony of his very recognisably normal family life slowly disintegrating is almost unbearable to witness, especially with two marvellous performances from Tom Holland and Bill Milner (of Son of Rambow) as his two young sons on what will be their last night of untainted family happiness.

That Steven Knight has previously been a screen writer shows in the perfectly judged script. But that he has triumphantly gone that further step into directing is revealed in the look of the thing, the sudden moments of magic in a banal night drive, where oncoming headlamps can suddenly acquire the look of floating pairs of angels, and coloured lights dappling Locke's face mirror the light and dark of the moral complexity of his situation. It's engrossing from start to finish, and a terrifically powerful performance from Hardy, showing once again that he's one of our very best film actors.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 29 April 2014

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