Arts & Culture

Film probes anxiety, crisis from the driver’s seat

Tom Hardy plays title character Locke, whose stable life erupts over one night-long car ride

Contributing Writer
Friday, April 18, 2014

Steven Knight’s film “Locke” examines human vulnerability and the desire to maintain a normal life in the face of obstacles. The film was screened Tuesday as part of the Ivy Film Festival.

The success of Steven Knight’s “Locke,” much like that of its eponymous character, hangs in the precarious balance between good intentions and a difficult execution. An 85-minute film of one man driving and answering personal and professional calls seems like hardly more than a clever conceit. The film, which screened on campus as part of the Ivy Film Festival Tuesday, would appear to indulge in conceptual campiness, the kind of art-house exercise that would prove far less stimulating on the screen than on paper.

But “Locke” turns a potential trap of contrived minimalism into a brilliant, provoking and enthralling film.

Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a construction foreman driving from Birmingham, England, to London on the eve of an important concrete pour. As his BMW moves through the blurred lights of empty spaces and urban landscapes, his life slowly collapses. More than anything else, Knight depicts a level of quiet desperation in Ivan, which manifests as a desire to preserve the world he has worked so hard to create.

A personal crisis throws the rest of Ivan’s life into tumult. There’s nowhere he would rather be than at home watching a soccer match with his wife and two sons, but instead he must drive alone through the night, with no companions except for each call.

Yet Locke doesn’t see himself as alone. Instead, the protagonist imagines a series of conversations with his dead father, a pathetic deadbeat whom Locke sees as having abandoned his family. In contrast, Locke himself is a man who holds firm control over his life; as both foreman and father, he has remained level-headed, in charge of all operations, adeptly maneuvering through problems with an uncommon strength and sturdiness.

Hardy brings a convincing emotionality to the role — Locke is an ethical and honest man who still feels the immense weight of the consequences of his actions. Hardy portrays someone not only enduring the common tribulations of bourgeois domesticity, but also struggling for them. It is quite a feat to make this task seem thrilling and suspenseful, as well as worthwhile and sympathetic.

Knight, too, does a brilliant job of depicting Locke’s vulnerability as he drives. Locke seems to be almost in physical danger, as though the thin barrier of the car could break down at any time, letting him fall prey to the oncoming traffic.

While Knight wrote the film in one week and filmed it in two, the end result seems as well-constructed as Ivan’s build site, a place where the difference between concrete types C6 and C5 challenges the possibility of Ivan’s dream to “steal a piece of sky … with our building.”

So rarely can a filmmaker adequately translate the meaningful moments of the human experience into narrative, much less into cinema. Real experiences often become lost in the retelling, making them seem mundane and commonplace. But Knight has created a masterful film based on the struggle to maintain an ordinary life, romanticizing Locke’s endurance as he faces the breakdown of his world. Knight finds a way to make beautiful the strength and consistency of concrete.

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