Friday, May 2, 2014

Sorting Through Hell And Self On A Road Less Travelled

Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke in the drama "Locke", written and directed by Steven Knight.
  A24 Films

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, May 2, 2014

"Are you the next of kin?", Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is asked repeatedly during Steven Knight's psychological drama "Locke", which Mr. Knight also wrote.  The response to the question is dry, defining the title character, a nine-year construction foreman in Northern England.  Ivan looks as sturdy and unbreakable as the concrete he's to preside over in a pouring for a building.  Ivan won't be there owing to sudden events.  Hours before a pour that will be a coup for "Chicago", the headquarters of the construction firm he works for, Ivan is driving through the night south to London, heading on the motorway to the M1 while trying to repair and redirect his whole life in two hours.

"Locke" is an architectural road trip movie of a man's journey for manhood, parenthood and emotional fortification amidst personal hell.  Everything about the film is "built".  We see the signage of the motorway, with its forked and curved illustrations.  The electronic dashboard displays family tree-like diagrams of telephone callers and options.  Chicago, the global headquarters of the unnamed company Ivan works for, is a city known for some of the world's best architecture.

Ivan bitterly resents his late father.  Ivan's road trip could be all about him imagining the conversations with those he's hurt while really having an inner monologue of Shakespearean proportions with his dad.  Ivan's anger is barely shielded by the practical yet detached attitude he has toward his increasingly dire moral and ethical predicaments.  Yet Ivan's mostly controlled calm is an act of defiance against his dad, who was absent and obviously abusive to Ivan.  It is also a self-preserving shield against ever-growing inner fragility.  "Locke" shines as a journey of life, and every experience of life that makes Ivan who he is is poured into the nocturnal excursion. 

Tom Hardy is excellent here in his finest hour as an actor.  His Ivan is a performance of total absorption and psychological endurance.  I was enveloped by the film and by Ivan, a flat-voiced man totally in control but completely out of control at the same time.  It's cerebral work, beautiful directing as a fine-looking thought film by Steven Knight.  Ivan Locke is a character who belongs as much to Michael Mann's night drive adventures as Mr. Knight's.  Ivan is intensely more cerebral and self-contained yet less disciplined than say, a Neil McCauley or a Vincent but he's less desperate though he's trying to escape a trail of emotional violence he's created.  It never leaves him or us, and the telephone voices from that wreckage are equally haunting and hilarious.  Some scenes are jarring, others deeply touching and resonant.  There's an ethereal quality about the car lights that float in the night, morphing like blobs in a lava lamp.

Because Mr. Knight directs "Locke" almost entirely inside the title character's car, a sanctuary of manhood-building, control and escape, the psychological pain and anguish we hear (and imagine) is that much more vivid.  This is also due in no small measure to Mr. Hardy's fantastic work as Ivan, whose aloofness and stoicism are further heightened by the visual style of disembodiment of a character out of step or reality with the discordant phone voices of panic, which grow more urgent and distressed.  This juxtaposition with Ivan's (and Mr. Hardy's) relatively placid demeanor accentuates an atmosphere that is occasionally disturbing.

Everything about "Locke" is cleverly built, from the intricacy and construction of the screenplay to the motorway sequences and choreographed traffic.  The night drive is methodically charted by Ivan.  Immense conflict exists in "Locke" on stylistic and character levels.  We see a man in transition, caught between modernization, symbolized by the ever-busy LED dashboard display in Ivan's BMW, and older brick-and-mortar ways of interaction.  Ivan, who seems to believe in upgrades, has a building instruction folder in his car that he reads out to an inexperienced subordinate who wants to write with a pencil what Ivan has dictated to him.  "Get a pen!", Locke advises.

Advances and upgrades are at the heart of "Locke", a film about adaptation, evolution, growth and improvement.  Ivan becomes his own father.  He parents situations, and he self-parents.  Any notion that he's a bad father would be harsh despite his highly questionable behavior.  He fathers the nervy subordinate employee as he drives.  Above all Ivan is a man at war with his father.  He just wants to father in a better way than his old man did.  This road trip is his chance. 

Ivan, the only character we see on screen, tries to make himself better.  He wants to put things right, sometimes at great cost, sometimes to rebel against the ghost of his father.  The question is, if a man is left with only his word, then it might be the singular thing that defines him as a man.  After all, when all else is stripped away in life, what do you have?

"Locke" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language throughout.  The film's running time is one hour and 24 minutes. 

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