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Amazing Grace Writer Shows Directing Mettle with Locke

<i>Amazing Grace</i> Writer Shows Directing Mettle with <i>Locke</i>

DVD Release Date: August 12, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: May 2, 2014 (expanding)
Rating: R for language throughout
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 85 min.
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, voices of Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Bill Milner

During a recent post-screening discussion of Locke, writer-director Steven Knight (the screenwriter of Amazing Grace) explained the decision made by the title character in the film’s opening moments. Locke, behind the wheel of his BMW, executes a turn that is both literal and metaphorical. "He's not going to go home and lie," Knight said. "He's going to tell the truth."

For the next 85 minutes, statements of truth are all we hear from Locke, the troubled but determined protagonist of Knight's gripping one-man show. Starring Tom Hardy (Inception) as a construction manager who walks off the job and heads for a destination that is clear to him but only gradually is revealed to viewers, Locke is set almost entirely within the lone on-screen character’s BMW as he drives through the night on the roads of England and fields phone calls from his co-workers, his wife, child and another caller. His son is eager for his dad to come home and watch a soccer game with him, but Locke won’t be home this evening. He’s decided he has more pressing obligations.

So he drives, and although he's the only character we see for 85 minutes, we can’t look away. Locke has been beautifully filmed by Haris Zambarloukos (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), and the changing night-time reflections against the car glass meld with Locke's Welsh accent to create a hypnotic blend of sights and sounds.

Locke's back story is gradually revealed over the course of the film. He's just hours from a critical juncture on his construction project: a pour of concrete that will make up the foundation of a huge new building. Although told his sudden departure from the construction site has cost him his job, Locke, even from afar, is determined to help his colleagues ensure a proper pour. Taking calls from a bewildered and overwhelmed co-worker, Locke walks him through the challenges associated with the pour, and lists the many ways it might go wrong if close attention is not paid to the details.

Locke prides himself on such attention—he's risen to his position by getting the details right. So why has he abandoned the site? Because he's disappointed himself in other areas of his life. "I haven't behaved in the right way," he confesses. "But now I can do the right thing." He's trying to regain the control he had briefly lost earlier while working on the same construction project.

Locke's dealing with in-the-moment difficulties, but he recognizes that the decisions he makes during his drive will determine his future. He's also hashing out his past. When he converses with others, he does so over the phone, but in several key scenes, he looks into his rear-view mirror and addresses the imagined ghost of his deceased father, whose legacy Locke is trying to leave behind. With barely contained fury, Locke threatens to dig up his deceased father—an action, Locke claims, that would make for "a happy day in hell." In those monologues, we learn about the legacy of moral failure Locke has lived with since childhood, and about his determination that such a legacy not be passed on to the next generation.

Locke is a man of conviction, wrestling with a troubled conscience by refusing to lie to himself or others. Truth-telling is admirable, of course. Proverbs tell us, "Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight" (12:22). But Locke raises the question of how to convey the truth: how bluntly, how unvarnished, how regardless of the consequences. Locke observes, "I will do what needs to be done, whether they hate me or love me." While we might commend Locke for refusing to engage in lies, the way he unloads difficult truths on those he loves can be legitimately questioned. What does a somewhat unexpected, added responsibility in Locke's life mean for his other responsibilities? How will abandoning one responsibility (his job) complicate his other responsibilities—to his family and to those who rely on him to take care of them? While lies would only complicate Locke’s situation, his embrace of truth cries out for further consideration of the consequences of his decision-making.

However, it's hard to hold such concerns against the film. The long-term consequences of Locke's decisions can't be sorted out in 85 minutes of screen time. Instead, Locke focuses on a man making a decision and convincing himself he's done the right thing. It's to the movie's credit that we’re so caught up in the forces pressing down on Locke that we, like him, don't consider some of the longer-term impacts of his choices until the lights have come up and the credits have rolled.

"I remember you. You ran a tight ship," Locke remembers being told of his management skills. That description applies to Knight's film as well. Locke is a tight ship, constructed to keep you guessing even as you give yourself over to the skilled storytelling set in a confined space.

With Locke, Knight proves himself a fine director, and Hardy lays claim to serious awards consideration for his controlled performance. Although the film is not in wide release and probably isn't playing at the theater closest to you, a longer-than-usual trip to a more distant venue may be in order. Locke is worth the drive.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Language/Profanity: Several uses of the f-word; "Jesus"; "ba-tard"; crude term for female anatomy
  • Drinking/Smoking: Discussion of drinking and its effects; a man admits he’s had too much to drink; Locke tells a man that he hopes his conscience will keep him from drinking
  • Sex/Nudity: None
  • Violence/Crime: A threat of bodily harm; discussions with the imagined ghost of Locke’s father
  • Religion/Morals/MarriageDiscussion of infidelity and family obligations; Locke says he has a direct line to God, and "don't trust God when it comes to concrete"

Publication date: May 2, 2014