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Thursday
May082014

Review: Tom Hardy is "Locke"

Here's Michael C. with a new review...
 

Is it too early to declare Tom Hardy in possession of one of the all time great movie voices? As the title character in Steven Knight’s Locke, Hardy speaks in an elegant Welsh timbre that brings to mind a slowly unraveling Richard Burton. It is an endless pleasure to listen to, which is fortunate since we have little else to latch onto through Locke’s 85 minute running time. The story begins late one night with Tom Hardy’s Ivan Locke leaving work in his BMW and follows him in real time on one long fraught drive to London. Just a man in his car trying to prop up his crumbling life, armed only with his voice and the digital Rolodex on his dashboard.

It seems like a twisted joke to cast Tom Hardy in such a role. From Bronson to Warrior to Dark Knight Rises, Hardy has proved himself to be one of our most intensely physical actors. Trapping him in the front seat of a car for the whole running time might as well be putting him in a straight jacket. Yet the casting turns out to be a masterstroke since that caged animal energy charges what might otherwise be a tedious stylistic workout with a surprising amount of tension...

Bit by bit we begin to fill in the world outside the car. Months ago, on a business trip, Ivan Locke had a meaningless one-off infidelity, less out of lust than sympathy for the lonely, sad woman he encountered. That would have been the end of it except that she got knocked up and now Ivan is determined do right by this woman. We gather a lot of this has to do with Locke’s history with his own absentee father whom he converses with as if his ghost occupies the back seat of the car. Locke takes place on the night our protagonist abandons his post overseeing one of the biggest construction jobs in European history to be present at the birth. On the way he toggles back and forth between all the relevant parties, explaining himself and absorbing their outrage.

Locke works despite the story’s self-imposed limitations because Knight and Hardy make this character into a mystery worth our undivided attention. We are most fascinated because he could make things so much easier at any point by lying, to his employers about why he’s blowing town at the worst possible moment, to his wife about his transgression, but he steadfastly refuses to fudge the facts, even a little. It’s as if he has resolved to reap the consequences of his mistake and the only way he knows to get through it, is to hold, unwavering, to the truth. Even when the panicked woman having his child begs from her hospital bed to hear that he loves her, Locke won’t budge, reiterating the painful, uncomfortable truth that they barely know each other.

It would be nice to say that Locke is so hypnotic it made me forget about the film’s central gimmick, but that would not be strictly true. The visuals do get monotonous (for a more successful tackling of repetitive driving visuals see Collateral) and the script does lean on some heavy-handed symbolism. The beginning of construction on Locke’s new building, for example, is set up as an obvious parallel to the birth of his new child. 

So what does Locke gain by filtering its story through this limited framing? We get a laser-focused character study, but we probably could have gotten just as much richness from a version of this story where Hardy gets out of the car. No, the main benefit to telling this story within these tight constraints is that the structure itself becomes an effective metaphor for Locke’s own limitations. Hardy’s character is an obsessive, controlling man forced to listen impotently as his wife has a breakdown and his drunken assistant makes a mess of his grand vision. Locke may never fully transcend its nature as a stunt, but when it taps us into that frustration, it is a stunt worth seeing. B

this year's reviews
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all posts by Michael Cusumano - you can follow him on Twitter, too

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Reader Comments (3)

Thanks for the review. Heard a great interview with Steven Knight on KCRW's The Business, which made me very interested in this film. Big fan of Tom Hardy, and I really liked him LAWLESS, which a lot of people did not.

May 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Cool review. I've read mixed things about this. If you gotta be stuck in a car for a whole movie, there's worse people to be stuck with than Mr. Hardy.

May 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

His voice really is amazing. He and his voice are the only reason why I watched "This means war", and after seeing it they were still the only reason. Thanks for the review.

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

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