Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Movie Review: Locke

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The one-man show, a relatively common construction on the live stage but few and far between at the cinema, is a tricky beast to pull off. Great writing and editing are always required, but great acting is what divides the one-men, since it falls to the quality of a single actor's performance to sustain audience interest.

There are some excellent films in this category, like last year's 'All is Lost,' which saw an Oscar-caliber Robert Redford adrift at sea, or 'Moon,' which followed Sam Rockwell as a time-card punching astronaut nearing the end of a 3-year contract.

But then there's the not-so-excellent films, in which a scant plot and dearth of gravitas result in audience attention wearing thin. 'Buried' made a clever go at putting Ryan Reynolds underground and 'Castaway' gave Tom Hanks a volleyball to wax philosophic with, but neither performed particularly well (Castaway has its defenders, which I've never fully understood).

That's a long lead-in but it brings us to 'Locke,' which doesn't quite reach a soaring height but still rises above it's central guy-in-a-car gimmick to deliver something nuanced and interesting.
On the eve of a major construction project, meticulous foreman Ivan Locke (The Dark Knight Rises' Tom Hardy) receives a message that sends him on the road to London. His decision to make that drive initiates a string of phone calls as Locke is forced to finalize preparations for the next day's work from his car, dodge the anxieties of his employer and explain his absence to his family.

That set-up – man in car on phone – is all there is to 'Locke,' with plot details being doled out piecemeal with each chime of the ringtone. But a surprisingly tight script and a convincingly conflicted Hardy keep things moving at a fast clip.

All things considered, the stakes aren't particularly high. But to say more would deprive the movie of its palpable tension. Grounding all of it is Hardy, playing up an understated everyman quality that has largely been ignored in favor of casting the actor as a big-budget villain or superspy in bad McG films. It's actually a bit of a treat to hear Hardy speaking so freely after playing a string of brooding mumblers in Warrior, Lawless and of course TDKR. As Locke, he is weighed down by the burdens of loyalty, integrity and family and yet there is an hushed excitement within him as he seizes his fate and drives (literally) headfirst into an unknown future.

It's an intimate and inventive film that marries emotional heft with beautifully minimalist imagery. It invests in the everyday drama of difficult choices and their consequences, getting a lot of mileage out of a 90 minute drive in a BMW.

Grade: B

*Locke opens in Utah on Friday, May 16

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