A drama of the everyday
Robert Henderson relishes the return of the real
Film review – Locke, 2014. Locke, main cast – Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke, Ruth Wilson as Katrina (voice), Olivia Colman as Bethan (voice), Andrew Scott as Donal (voice), Ben Daniels as Gareth (voice), Tom Holland as Eddie (voice), Director: Steven Knight
Perhaps the rarest of films are those which make gripping dramas out of ordinary life. This is somewhat surprising because everyday existence does not obviously lend itself to drama. Locke is a film which shows how wrongheaded this idea is as a general rule by producing a truly gripping film from the everyday.
The film depicts a few hours in someone’s life filled with the sort of things which could happen to anyone. Apart from a minute or two at the beginning and end of the film the entire on screen action consists of the eponymous character Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) in his car driving and making and receiving phone calls about his work and personal life. It is just a hideously bad day at the office with a messy private life looming over it. There is no disaster to keep up the tension, just the net of circumstances remorselessly closing.
Sounds tedious and limited in dramatic scope with precious little opportunity for character development? Don’t you believe it. Locke is in circumstance hell. Everything conspires to put pressure on him. Worst of all he knows in his heart of hearts that he is the author of his misfortunes. He is a foreman in charge of a building site. The next day he is due to supervise a huge concrete “pour”, that is huge amounts of wet concrete poured on site to create a large structure, a very demanding technical task. But Locke will not be at the “pour” because he is headed for a hospital where a woman (Bethan) with whom he had a one-night-stand is about to give birth to his child. To add to these worries his wife Katrina knows nothing of the other woman or impending child and she and their son are expecting him home where Locke and his son are supposed to watch a football match together.
So far so traumatic, but it gets far worse. Locke rings one of his workers at the site to get him to do the last minute checking he should have done and to prepare him to oversee the “concrete pour” in Locke’s place. But the worker Donal has a drink inside him and does not feel confident of taking Locke’s place. Locke rings Bethan to say he is on the way. He speaks to his son and wife saying he will not be home in time for the match. He discovers that a road he needed closed to allow the concrete to be delivered has not been closed. Locke sorts it out. He speaks to his boss who pleads with him to be there to supervise the concrete “pour” and eventually fires him when he realises that Locke will not be at the site to supervise the “pour”.
As Locke drives he also has the stress of breaking the news to his wife that he is going to see a woman who is having his child and tries desperately to explain to his son why he will not be home. After several phone calls his wife decides to throw him out of the house.
Why has he sacrificed so much for a woman he barely knows and a child he has not wanted? It transpires that Locke was abandoned by his father soon after his birth and did not meet him until he had reached adulthood and with whom he never came to terms when they did meet as adults. This provides the impetus for Locke behaving in this quixotic way because he does he does not want this child to be deserted by its father. His uneasy relationship with his father also provides a hook for Locke to have imaginary conversations with his father while he drives. These are the only weak and sentimental things in the film. They would have been better left out and the circumstances left to speak for themselves. But they are a small blemish.
As the seeming never ending barrage of stress hits Locke he keeps his cool and provides solutions to the practical difficulties he faces but fails with his relationships. By the end of the film Locke has lost his wife, his home and his job but gained a son and a resolution in his mind of his relationship with his father.
The role of Locke is as demanding a part as could be imagined because the character is centre stage throughout and has to carry the film utterly for the rest of the cast, which includes some fine actors, cannot in the nature of things make much impact because they are simply disembodied voices who appear only in short bursts. Hardy carries it off immaculately. In fact, this film is made for him because he has great screen presence and exudes self-possession.
This is a film which shows that a silk purse can be made out of what looks like a sow’s ear when the basic premise is baldly stated – highly recommended.
ROBERT HENDERSON is QR’s film critic