MIFF 2014: Locke
It's nightfall in Birmingham, but Ivan Locke's ordeal is just beginning. Still draped in his construction worker's uniform, he gets in his BMW to make a long, lonely drive to London. Through his phone, he talks to every other important person in his life. We only ever see him, but he's everyone else's disembodied voice. It sounds like that's all there is to Locke, but its premise is everything to him. Tom Hardy drives this film alone.
Though the constant mobile phone calls and BMW product placement are all-too-modern invasions of privacy, Locke is determinedly old-fashioned. It feels in every way like a one-man, one-act play through the five stages of grief, but it demands a sense of movement, all streetlights on windscreens, that only cinema can provide. Like Tom Hardy, we're trapped in our seats; 84 minutes of purgatory as the world moves around us. But we don't have even the illusion of control.
Ivan Locke is a true, dyed-in-the-wool man, a husband and father so adept at following rules he can't accept when it's easier to break them. Locke stems from what might be the only mistake he's made in his entire life, which leads to him being summoned to London at exactly the wrong time. He'd rather be brutally, facelessly honest than lie of convenience, even when jobs and lives depend on it. Locke treats all this as a man's duty, righting wrongs its own reward. Even as his life falls apart around him, Locke talks us through three interlinked crises with such qualities as willpower and competence. In a sense, the film starts at his resolution. He's already made peace with his fate - everyone else is just catching up.
With so much left to the viewer's imagination, and such a canvas for pure acting, it's hard to resist fantasy casting actual movie stars. Tom Hardy's range is far from limited - he's an entirely empathetic prick, whose voice is kinder than his words - but his performance is entirely reactive. What would Tom Cruise do with the same premise? What baggage would Nicolas Cage bring? The film's so cowed by old-world masculinity that casting a woman would instantly annihilate it.
Locke would be even more compelling with an outright scoundrel at its center, or a director who couldn't care less for redemption. Instead of gentle, interspersed laughs, Locke's visuals cry out for comedy as grim as its endless highway. Instead, this Locke's a morality play, as meticulous and righteous as its protagonist. Not once does he take directions. He knows exactly where he's going.