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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Locke review: riding in a car with a boy

Locke green light

We say things like, “Oh, I’d watch that guy read the phone book,” and this is almost that. Except it really is absolutely riveting, and that’s no joke.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Tom Hardy

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is the movie that is just Tom Hardy driving in his car for 90 minutes, talking on his mobile. We say things like, “Oh, I’d watch that guy read the phone book,” and this is almost that. Except it really is absolutely riveting, and that’s no joke.

Still, I’m seeing Locke getting called a “thriller” around the Net, which is a little bit of a stretch. What Hardy’s (The Dark Knight Rises, Lawless) Ivan Locke is driving toward and what’s he’s talking to various people about on the phone are matters of some suspense, and his motives end up being something that you could have wonderful heated discussions about for hours and hours afterward. But none of it is the usual stuff of thrillers. What’s going on here is that Locke’s life is falling apart in the two hours it’s taking him to drive from Wales to London — the film, which starts out in the interior of his car and never leaves it, unspools almost in real time — and he is trying to manage that collapse in a practical way that can never, ever work.

See, cuz… Well, I won’t tell you what’s awaiting him so urgently in London, but it’s no spoiler to reveal that what he is leaving behind in Wales is “the biggest concrete pour Europe has ever seen.” Locke is some sort of architectural engineer, and he is the expert the megacorp whose project he is helping to build who is required on the scene for the big event the next morning. Except he’s in his car driving away from it. Some of his phone calls are to his assistant, explaining what needs to be done to get the job done right. Locke is very philosophical about his work: “You don’t trust God when it comes to concrete,” he explains with the patience of a priest talking to a child. He is downright passionate about concrete. He seems to understand it better than he understands people.

The brilliant script by Steven Knight, who also directed — and this is so much better than his previous film, the ambitious but tragicomically flawed Hummingbird — is like watching Locke try to pour emotional concrete, but as if he doesn’t understand that people are not concrete and they will not settle into the feelings you want them to settle in to if you get the mix of feels just right. Maybe he’s slightly Asperger’s. Maybe he’s just not emotionally mature but trying to be. For his phone calls to the people back home and the people ahead of him in London reveal that he is trying to do a “right thing” in a situation where there probably isn’t a single right thing to be found, and yet if there were a wrongest thing he could be doing, a thing that would cause maximum damage all around, to all aspects of his life both personal and professional, he seems to have found that. Hardy is so still and so calm through it all, and yet there’s a sense that Locke might be throwing a sort of tantrum: maybe he’s just past an emotional last straw of his own?

This is a marvelous film: simple, elegant, haunting. It may not be a thriller, but it is certainly thrilling to see a filmmaker and an actor take such a daring cinematic risk and have it pay off so handsomely.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival


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Locke (2014)
US/Can release: Apr 25 2014
UK/Ire release: Apr 18 2014

MPAA: rated R for language throughout
BBFC: rated 15 (contains very strong language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Patrick M.

    Well, I just saw it and I’ll go with the consensus. It’s pretty good, especially the acting which must be very hard to do in this ultra-naturalistic way.
    I watched it against my will (it was someone else’s choice)… I wanted to hate it, but it captured me. The premise is good too: “Hold it together, no matter what”,or some such. A great contrast to the similar but ultimately pointless Non-Stop.

  • sharon sh

    This film is absolute rubbish. Couldnt have cared less about the man or his concrete. Cant believe the telegraph described it as a nail biting thriller. They must have watched a different film to me.

  • This is not the Telegraph. Would you like to comment on my review? (Maybe the part where I said it wasn’t a thriller?)

  • Patrick M.

    It certainly isn’t a thriller. It isn’t a genre film at all. It is realism – at a long stretch, a George Eliot novel in miniature, Midlands background and all, Drama grows from the subject matter, with all its symbolic and ironic potential. A key incident is the grant of council permission for a stop-go sign (you know, red side, green side, bloke giving it the occasional twirl). Add to that the points that the film does not condescend, has no obvious political or sociological axe to grind, and ends on an up-note, and respectful critical bemusement seems a light escape!

    NB. I have it on the authority of the programme notes, the drive is from Birmingham, not Wales. Ivan is a construction foreman, not an “architectural engineer” or “expert” – no fancy letters after his name, just the man who gets it done.

  • RogerBW

    It seems almost perverse, to take the unlimited visual canvas of cinema and throw it all away (rather than, say, make the thing a radio play). Intriguing.

  • You cannot see an actor’s face on radio, though.

  • thomskis

    It is definitively rubbish in your humble opinion? I found it incredibly resonant having lived a bit. Maybe you are very young?

  • somePithyUsername

    I have to agree with Sharon. I primarily couldn’t care less about him because not only was the lead laughably suggested to be some precious, commendable philanthropist –even for cheating!!– but Hardy plays him as a long-suffering one at that! The actor actually *sighed* when his wife was expressing her distress! Like, seriously? What kind of douche acting/writing choice is that? And all the talking down to, esp. to a woman about childbirth, err –yeah women in our societies have the luxury of ignoring the matter for months, spend no time researching everything to do with babies and pregnancies, and just decide to be “practical” on the day that the water breaks. Can only be written by the quintessential mansplainer.

    Thus, no surprise that the*only* characters who were women were the ones whose baby-making machinery had to be put to use, and the ones who needed to do “women’s work”. Coz how could we ever manage to be council-people or doctors? Gasp!

    Or that the leads says he gets why the errant father didn’t want to stick around. Yeah, that’s the reason why men generally leave the little-people-raising to women.

    Such a pity that the movie was a constant reminder of how sexist everyone involved must have been and that the contrived writing tried so hard for the lead to be beloved, because the direction wasn’t too shabby, and the film had flashes of good acting, albeit inappropriate at most times.

  • somePithyUsername

    And I say all this from the perspective of a person who’s never been cheated on. I can’t even imagine how vexing it must be for ones who have to watch a plausibly relatable character be treated with impatience for merely reacting to the news.

    Also, haven’t ever been or plan to be pregnant either, and wonder what other women who have been thought of Locke condescending to Bethan.

  • somePithyUsername

    But one gets to enjoy just the skill of the actor(s). Well, in theory! It didn’t do it for me here: personally I don’t believe Hardy has the chops; seems too full of himself, and therefore too aware of the camera.

  • the lead laughably suggested to be some precious, commendable philanthropist

    He really isn’t. What makes you think he is?

  • somePithyUsername

    *Spoiler Alert*

    For starters, he says he slept with Bethan because he felt sorry for her (at first, it was that they were both lonely, but later during the last (I think) argument with his father, he says was it was basically charity).

    Also, the running theme of the entire movie is that the one half of the couple feeling rightly responsible for the procreated offspring is some noble sacrifice. Yes, fathers seem to be under this illogical impressions due to sexism, but the fact that the writer doesn’t show any awareness of the injustice that it is, and actually uses it as a way to endear his lead to the audience, suggests he does indeed think Locke is a Great Man. Haha, I just remembered that he actually gets one of the characters to say so –in the superlative!

    Someone playing hooky, no less on a day of huge importance to most of the [male] characters, and then making sure the job goes well is also not noble. However, I noticed that Knight seems to be more on on board with this: he gets his boss to be empathetic but ultimately has him say Locke fucked up his own life. And the assistant is allowed to vent more or less reasonably when Locke [justifiably] patronizes to him. (In contrast, Kat’s venting drew sighs and dismissive counter-arguments)

    Did you not get the feeling at all that the movie was supposed to make Locke feel/look good for wanting to do the bare minimum?

    (Oops, sorry, I should have added spoiler warnings in my previous comment! Will edit.)

  • somePithyUsername

    Did anyone wonder why the notes from the folder had to be read over the phone in 2013? :D

  • I think you may be confusing Locke’s delusions about himself and his justifications for his shitty actions with approval of those things. To me, the movie is not about making him look good or noble but about the disconnect between his motivations and how other people feel about the way he treats them. He tells himself that he is “doing the right thing,” but he has picked the absolute worst time to start, and does so with no regard for how this will affect anyone else. I certainly think that Locke thinks he is behaving in a way that is good and noble, but I see no evidence at all that the movie agrees with him.

  • Why is that a problem?

  • somePithyUsername

    I’m very glad for your interpretation –that would be a vastly better movie. Like you though, I don’t see any evidence to suggest for that charitable reading. If it’s just Locke’s grandiosity at play, how do you figure the choice to have a character tell him he is the greatest guy? Trust me, I wish the writer was trying to say what you’re saying he did, but I just don’t see it. If you still remember the movie, could you explain?

  • somePithyUsername

    Because all he would’ve had to do was use his phone camera. Especially, since he was worried the guy was too drunk to be taking notes down accurately.

    I’ve been watching movies off of your list of greens dots –I’m very grateful for them, BTW. Most critic lists/reviews are sublimely unaware of the misogynist bits; with yours, I’m forewarned, if there any; your “Where are all the Women” feature is very helpful, as well– so I wasn’t sure when the movie was made, and had to pause and check imdb to be sure it was a movie made in the millennium of instantaneous sharing of pictures.

  • Danielm80

    It’s been a while since I saw the movie, but my recollection is that Locke thought it was very very urgent that he never stop driving. Pulling over to read a business document would have eaten a lot of time.

  • I don’t recall the specific line you’re referring to. Could that other character have been sarcastic? Or just trying to placate Locke? Or, even if that one character truly thinks Locke is amazing, that still doesn’t automatically make this depiction a positive one.

  • What Danielm80 said. Also, maybe it just didn’t occur to him. Maybe it wouldn’t have been precise enough. Maybe he’s a control freak who feels better giving instructions. There are lots of possible explanations for this.

  • somePithyUsername

    To read? No, to take a picture. And he wasn’t looking at the road when he was reading out the details anyway, so he could have easily taken a picture while driving.

  • somePithyUsername

    One of which could be that Knight originally wrote this at a time when phone cameras were not the norm, and then forgot to edit. Else, it’s shoddy writing going by the lack exposition as to why.

    As for it not occurring to Locke or him having other reasons not to, characters doing things with writers being aware of them doesn’t bother me –and infact the best way to add layers; writers not providing explanations for bizarre contrived choices is just lazy and insulting audience’s intelligence.

    And if we must analyze Locke’s motivation in the absence of any instruction from the writer: considering how incompetent Donald was, Locke would have had to go over it with him verbally anyway after the picture was received, so check for fulfilling his control freakishness. And this way he wouldn’t have had to worry worry about Donald not writing it down. Which lost him considerable time, made Donald angry and further inebriated.

    Basically, Knight seems to have needed a way to show how dedicated Locke was so as to patiently read out copious and mundane notes aloud. For it to have worked without a “duh” scene later, he should have set the movie in 2000.

    I go by what the storytellers show me. I try not to second-guess why characters do what they do unless the writing asks me to. Therefore, it’s carelessness, at best and contrived writing, at worst. I’m not too fussed either way because there are far more nefarious writing choices in this movie that concern me.

  • somePithyUsername

    No, it was supposed to be sincere. It came from the “road gang” builder. I have the subs: “Wait, wait, wait…Stefan just said, ”Say hello”. He said, ”Say hello to Ivan Locke. He says to say you’re the best man in England” followed by a poignant pause from Locke.

    And no, as evidenced by the several reasons I’ve listed above, I’m not going by just this one commendation. Since you disagreed, I asked you what other reason than to applaud Locke is there for this comment?

  • Is that not a reference to him in a professional sense? We are supposed to believe that he’s the only guy his company trusted to handle the big concrete pour.

  • somePithyUsername

    Unlikely; else he’d have said “best builder”. Which others did say. And it came from a person not employed or even likely to be by their company –Locke’s assistant is incredulous that he was asked to go find a man from a gang– so it’s not the company’s POV that he was toting anyway.

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