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With: Tom Hardy, the voices of Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner, Danny Webb, Alice Lowe, Silas Carson, Lee Ross, Kirsty Dillon
Written by: Steven Knight
Directed by: Steven Knight
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout
Running Time: 85
Date: 04/25/2014

Locke (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The movie Buried (2010) featured one man in a box with a cell phone, and nothing else. It had no other settings, no flashbacks or flash-forwards, and no subplots. It was told as a nail-biting thriller. Now Steven Knight's Locke uses the same setup, but for a radically different, more ambitious payoff.

Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is shown driving his car at night. He's making the roughly 90-minute trip from Birmingham to London, making calls on the way (hands-free, don't worry). Through the first several calls, we learn that he has suddenly left behind an important job: the largest concrete pour in history. His boss screams at him, and ultimately fires him for this offense. (His boss is given the nickname "Bastard" on the phone screen.) Locke still intends to get the job done, and speaks regularly to a co-worker, prepping him for the enormous responsibility.

He also leaves behind his wife and children, who expected him home for a football (soccer, for you Americans) match on television, plus beer and sausages. No other characters are shown; only their voices are heard. Some of them come from actors you may recognize in other films, such as Olivia Colman, who appears as Nick Frost's sister in Cuban Fury.

I'd rather not give the reason for Locke's hasty departure, but it falls to a hard decision he's had to make, and it's one that affects everything in his life, past and present. He even speaks to his dead "father" in the rear view mirror, yelling at the bastard for all his offenses. (Don't worry... Knight doesn't actually show any ghosts during these sequences. It's all in Hardy's remarkable performance.)

Knight's camera remains mostly inside the car with Locke, but occasionally shoots in through the window from outside, and also occasionally gives us a street sign so that we can chart his progress. (This will be less effective for Americans than it would be for residents of London or Birmingham.) The camera sometimes seems to just drift, randomly grabbing at lights or reflections of lights, making colorful, transfixing, patterns.

The effect is that, as in My Dinner with Andre, we are staring at diffuse images but our brains are focused on Locke's conversations, perhaps trying to picture faces, or a football match, or a concrete pour. It's interesting to think about these sturdy, solid images, the image of a "lock," or concrete, or a game, all behind him, juxtaposed with Locke's future -- where he's going -- which is completely uncertain and unknown.

Knight uses music and sounds to help elevate the tension as the story goes along. As things get more and more intense, his calls begin coming in one on top of another, and his phone coldly informs him -- at exactly the wrong moments -- that he has another call coming in; it's incredibly tense. Likewise, Locke is suffering from a cold (he blows his nose and sucks down some medicine) and can't quite keep the sleeves of his bulky sweater rolled up. His hyper-controlled world begins to come unraveled the longer he's on the road.

It's revealing to consider that Knight is a creator of the TV game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" which also uses lights and music to ramp up the tension on an otherwise static show. Incidentally, he's also the author of two very strong original screenplays, Dirty Pretty Things (2003), directed by Stephen Frears, and Eastern Promises (2007), directed by David Cronenberg. Knight directed one other feature before this one, the Jason Statham film Redemption, which I believe did not get a U.S. theatrical release.

Ultimately, the themes of "forward into the future and backward into the past" are not that much of a stretch, but Knight's structural experiment, its willingness to embrace chaos, and its ultimate emotional impact make it one of the most outstanding movies of the year so far.

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