Sunday, October 19, 2014

168. British film director Steven Knight’s film “Locke” (2013) based on his original script/story: Amazing script forged from what could also have been a suberb one act play with a great performance




There is something special when a director writes his own original script. And Steven Knight’s Locke is special, if an astute viewer evaluates what it offers.

The title reminds one of the 17th century British philosophers, John Locke.  John Locke postulated his ‘theory of mind’ that built the early concepts of ‘identity’ and ‘self.’ Locke felt that our minds at birth were without ideas or blank slates (or tabula rasa) and that our mind’s subsequent knowledge was derived from experience through sense perception.

Knight’s film Locke is about another unrelated, contemporary fictional Locke, whose full name is Ivan Locke. This Ivan Locke, the only person the viewer gets to see in the entire film, is an unusual human being.  Ivan Locke is a successful technocrat—a senior civil engineer responsible for overseeing the construction of skyscrapers.  Ivan Locke is a principled, devoted family man who is on the verge of laying the concrete foundation of the tallest skyscraper he has ever built within the next 24 hours.  However, the good man’s enviable life dramatically changes.

One night’s indiscretion after drinking two bottles of wine, brings all his family and career crashing down at the pinnacle of his 9 year career when he could own a state-of-the-art BMW X5 car. Knight’s development of the Ivan Locke character begins when you see the man removing his work boots before entering his car and putting it in a bag meant for them.  Ivan Locke might not be an aristocrat, but he evidently knows and plans ahead to maintain a rich man’s car. Ivan, we soon find out, is dedicated to his job, and, even after he is fired, insists on completing what he was doing professionally without any scope for mistakes. And when he does make a mistake he is willing to do everything to correct it and admit it was a mistake to all who matter to him. 

He is a modern day Jean Valjean of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, caring for those who are weak and lonely, who believes in ensuring his new progeny knows he /she has a caring father, unlike Ivan’s own father.

Tom Hardy as a fictional Welshman Ivan Locke:
aiming to reproduce
the "gravitas and integrity of Richard Burton's performances"
But what holds Ivan Locke’s life together are the principles and experience that he has acquired from his career, his life and, most of all, his father’s actions towards him. Those are the common denominators for technocrat Ivan Locke and the ideas of philosopher John Locke presented indirectly by director Knight for the thinking, discerning viewer. 

Director Knight has stated in an interview “He is called (Ivan) Locke because he is the John Locke philosopher of rationality and he is trying to do stuff logically.” (Huffington Post interview with Erin Whiney, 24 Apr 2014). Much of Ivan Locke’s actions in the movie have a bearing on the lack of communication and interest Ivan’s dad had with Ivan, which we learn from Ivan’s monologue addressing his dead father, as though he were sitting in the rear seat of the car.  It is important to note that the references to the distant past life of Ivan are brought up in “conversations” with his dead father or rather a monologue using the rear view mirror. (Appropriately, the rear view is for the past; the details of the concreting is in the file beside him in the car; and the GPS screen indicates his possible chosen future, with all its options. The confined space of the driver seat, is not confined to the obvious physical limitations.)


Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy)  speaking to his invisible dead father
 in the rear seat

The manner in which the 85-minute film was made is remarkable. The filming of the original script apparently evolved during a tight schedule, not unlike films of Terrence Malick evolving during the film-making process . Director Knight’s script was captured on film after mere eight nights of shooting, with two versions of the film being recorded each night. The final film was apparently a cut and paste of the 16 accumulated versions.  Except for the immensely talented Tom Hardy, the rest of the cast are only heard but not seen. The film is thus a close relative of a radio play with visuals.

It is visuals that inform the viewer, thanks to Bluetooth, that Ivan has keyed in ‘Bastard’ as the eponym for Gareth who is Ivan’s boss on his mobile phone. It is the GPS visuals on his car’s dashboard that indicate the straight road Ivan is taking to be with Bethan,  the mother of his soon to be born child. It is visuals that inform the viewer that Ivan is not over speeding on the highway. It is visuals that show you that there is further chaos outside the car on the highway as police cars/ambulance with sirens overtake Ivan’s car while Ivan is dealing with and getting on top of each crisis in his life that particular night. And if you are paying attention, you are not likely to turn off the radio (if you were to consider it as a radio play) or walk of the movie.  And it is visuals that inform you that Ivan’s BMW also has an ironic number plate “ADIOS,” Spanish for goodbye.

It is not important how the movie ends. The movie is more about how a viewer can identify with Ivan Locke, a successful working class British man who has made one mistake.  On a drunken night the married man slept with his secretary while on work away from home. He does not love his secretary but has sympathy for her apparent solitary life. Ivan seeks forgiveness from his wife for his one and only occasion when he has been unfaithful. Her trite answer to Ivan’s protestation is “The difference between never and once is the difference between good and bad.”  The viewer has to choose between the wrongdoer and the wronged, and decide whether Ivan is the hero or the anti-hero of Locke.

It is also a movie where the lead actor has contributed considerably to the making of the film as was revealed at the Venice Film Festival press conference, just as actor Kirk Douglas made director Stanley Kubrick make the all important change to the ending of Paths of Glory (1957). It is a movie that is more than an advertisement for a great car. It is a movie that will make you recall what Steven Spielberg achieved in his similar (and outstanding) film Duel (1971), in which unlike Steven Knight emphasizing character development through spoken dialogues, Spielberg emphasized the effect of faceless and illogical terror through images and sound rather than spoken words.  Tom Hardy’s personal interest in developing an unusual accent keeping the late Welsh actor Richard Burton on his mind’s radar while enacting the role in a confined space is truly commendable. It is a fascinating performance that complements a lovely script.

The film belongs to both Steven Knight and Tom Hardy in equal measure.  It is surprising that the Venice Film Festival chose it to be included in its official major line-up but kept it “out of competition.”  If it were in competition, it might have won an award or two.  The film is recommended for viewers who can appreciate good script-writing and actors committed to perfecting their skills.


P.SThis film is one of the author's best 10 films of 2014


8 comments :

Amrit Rukhaiyaar said...

very insightful review Sir... I found this movie a lesson of constructive approach to apply in our own lives.

had written a small review mentioning about it, would like to have your word on it :)

http://www.moviegeeksblog.com/2014/08/locke-2013-quick-review.html

Jugu Abraham said...

Amrit, I read your post and agree with what you say there. However, Ivan Locke is also to be viewed from his wife's perspective. That is where the viewer has to figure out if Ivan is indeed a hero or an anti-hero.

Murtaza Ali said...

Sir, I really enjoyed watching this film... the idea as well as its execution is quite novel and effective. I must say that it was a sheer delight to watch Tom Hardy play the part of Ivan Locke.

Your review offers valuable insights into the movie as well as what drives two of its most important collaborators: the director Knight and the actor Hardy. The fact that a 17th century British philosopher actually is the inspiration behind the name of the protagonist (a technocrat) may sound somewhat bizarre at first but things slowly start to make sense... especially if one tries to assess the film a second time... and that's exactly where quality critiques come handy (and pithy observations of someone as seasoned as yourself).

I really liked the way you have drawn comparisons between Knight's Locke and Spielberg's Duel. Also, I liked the way you compared Tom Hardy with the great Welsh actor Richard Burton (The resolve that Hardy seem to show while essaying Locke's complex part is a testament to his remarkable acting talents... Yes, I do love thinking actors like Douglas, Burton and Hardy). But, what I find most interesting is how you see Ivan Locke--as a modern-day Jean Valjean.

And, in the end, it's not very difficult to see Locke both as a hero as well as an anti-hero (depending on how one chooses to see him): His wife starts to see him as a villain the moment he broke the news of his infidelity. At the same time I just cannot see Bethan regarding him as her hero. She may see a "God" (for Ivan became the vehicle for the fulfillment of her prayers... she was lonely but with the birth of Ivan's child her abject solitude would finally end) in him but definitely not a hero.


Ivan Locke may be an archetypal anti-hero for most viewers but he also represents a part of us where the darkness resides, the part of us that's most vulnerable to the worldly temptations. In other words, Ivan Locke is a formidable example of how our choices and actions can alter our fate forever.

Whether to see him as a hero, or as a villain, that is the question...

Amrit Rukhaiyaar said...

yes, that's a perspective we can't ignore.. however, I was impressed how he didn't run out of the situation and proved his point, because he hated his dad for the same reason. He may have lost his family [or may not] but he did received some kind of accomplishment by being with this lady at the Hospital.. Thanks for reading my review of Locke :)

Murtaza Ali said...

Sir, I really enjoyed watching this film... the idea as well as its execution is quite novel and effective. I must say that it was a sheer delight to watch Tom Hardy play the part of Ivan Locke.


Your review offers valuable insights into the movie as well as what drives two of its most important collaborators: the director Knight and the actor Hardy. The fact that a 17th century British philosopher actually is the inspiration behind the name of the protagonist (a technocrat) may sound somewhat bizarre at first but things slowly start to make sense... especially if one tries to assess the film a second time... and that's exactly where quality critiques come handy (and pithy observations of someone as seasoned as yourself).


I really liked the way you have drawn comparisons between Knight's Locke and Spielberg's Duel. Also, I liked the way you compared Tom Hardy with the great Welsh actor Richard Burton (The resolve that Hardy seem to show while essaying Locke's complex part is a testament to his remarkable acting talents... Yes, I do love thinking actors like Douglas, Burton and Hardy). But, what I find most interesting is how you see Ivan Locke--as a modern-day Jean Valjean.


And, in the end, it's not very difficult to see Locke both as a hero as well as an anti-hero (depending on how one chooses to see him): His wife starts to see him as a villain the moment he broke the news of his infidelity. At the same time I just cannot see Bethan regarding him as her hero. She may see a "God" (for Ivan became the vehicle for the fulfillment of her prayers... she was lonely but with the birth of Ivan's child her abject solitude would finally end) in him but definitely not a hero. Ivan Locke may be an archetypal anti-hero for most viewers but he also represents a part of us where the darkness resides, the part of us that's most vulnerable to the worldly temptations. In other words, Ivan Locke is a formidable example of how our choices and actions can alter our fate forever.


Whether to see him as a hero, or as a villain, that is the question...

Jugu Abraham said...

Murtaza, thanks for the kind words. It is interesting for me to see so many intensely negative reactions to this interesting film on IMdB by its users!

Matthew Bailey said...

Also now on my best of year list. Tom Hardy deserves to be a household name. I see people discovering this gem for years to come. I sure hope so.

Jugu Abraham said...

Happy that you liked it, Matthew. He deserved an Oscar nomination for this role.

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