Locke

Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke

 

Steven Knight’s movie track record so far: when he only writes (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises) very good; when he also directs (Hummingbird), not so good. For his latest film, Locke, he directs, and the results are enough to make you forgive Hummingbird, the misguided attempt to inject soul into Jason Statham.

 

Because Locke is very very good indeed. And it’s so simple, a high-concept piece – perhaps what you’d expect from one of the brains behind the quiz format Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – which simply sticks a man in a car and has him drive and answer phone calls, drive and answer some more. One man, one car, some voices coming over the bluetooth hands-free, that’s it.

 

That man is an engineer – an expert in concrete slab bases – who has had an erotic dalliance a few months earlier. Now, as a result of that night of drunken passion, he’s about to become a father; the mother is down in London, crying, desperate and lonely. His wife, unawares, is at home about to watch the football with his sons. She’s cooking sausages and has bought in “that German beer you like”. Meanwhile, his underling back at the vast project he’s overseeing is wondering where the hell the boss has gone on the night before a crucial and huge “pour” of liquid concrete.

 

All this is established in the first few minutes. Over the next 90 minutes we watch Locke deal with all that – technical details to do with concrete, rebars and shuttering, the fallout from his absence at work, the increasingly desperate mother-to-be in the birthing unit, the wife and family at home – in what could very easily be a radio play.

 

If it were we’d be denied Tom Hardy’s performance as the softly spoken Welshman Ivan Locke, a man in a white shirt with graph-check pattern, pullover, untrendy beard, who has dedicated his life to the eminently practical – the concrete, in fact – partly, we learn, as a way of coping with the memory of his drunken, wastrel father.

 

If the father – whom Hardy addresses in angry soliloquy – and his backstory threaten to break the otherwise straight-ahead linear thrust of Knight’s urgent film, he’s the only real distraction, and Hardy’s subtle change of gear in these moments shows he appreciates this danger too.

 

It’s Hardy’s film, obviously, the emotions moving across his face like clouds scudding across the moon. But the voice talent lined up to punctuate Locke’s long night-drive of the soul are uniformly believable too. I particularly liked Olivia Colman as the needy Bethan, mother of Locke’s child, and Andrew Scott as Donal, the slightly feckless Irish concretist with a liking for cider.

 

Steven Knight spoke at the screening I was at. There were only about 40 of us and he had bothered coming out to say about half a minute’s worth, so he must be proud of the film. He told us it was an experiment shot back to back ten times in eight days (or was it the other way round?) – “then we edited the best bits together”. Thanks to the restless editing (by Justine Wright) and the cinematography (by Haris Zambarloukos), which turns the blurred motorway lights, passing cars and brightly reflective windscreen into a metaphor for Locke’s rushing mind, we’re as good as in the car with him. Is the mild mannered gent going to hold it together, or erupt? Is he, in his distraction, going to crash the car? Read on…

 

Locke – Watch it/buy it now at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

 

I’m Not There

Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

19 March

 

Bob Dylan releases first album, 1962

Today in 1962, having dropped out of the University of Minnesota and relocated to New York City to visit the dying Woody Guthrie and break into performing, Bob Dylan released his first album. Eponymously titled Bob Dylan it had come about after Dylan had played harmonica on Carolyn Hester’s album in September 1961, and caught the eye of producer John Hammond. Hammond signed Dylan up to Columbia in October 1961 and within five months the album was done. It was a collection of folk standards, coffeehouse favourites plus two Dylan originals – Song to Woody (loosely based on Guthrie’s 1913 Massacre) and Talkin’ New York. The album’s personnel consisted of Dylan on vocals, guitar and harmonica, and that was it. The album failed to sell.

 

 

 

I’m Not There (2007, dir: Todd Haynes)

A film about Bob Dylan that uses a different actor to play the man in various stages of his career. Sounds fairly unremarkable on the face of it, the sort of thing that happens all the time. But Richard Gere as Dylan? An African-American (Marcus Carl Franklin)? A woman (Cate Blanchett)? Director Todd Haynes throws in Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw as the other three Dylans in a film whose stunt casting threatens to obscure its purpose – by adopting the freewheeling approach Haynes is trying to get closer to a character who has spent his life constantly creating and erasing his own myth. Well that’s the puff. Constructed as a series of episodes, with a different Dylan in each, the look and shooting style changing to match, this kaleidoscopic retelling of the Dylan biography avoids the trap of serving up familiar snippets. And when it does, it refracts them, twisting them into new shapes, much as Dylan himself twisted the fairly staid forms of folk into his own vehicle for expression.
Haynes takes Dylan pretty much at his own estimation of himself – cool, smart, honest, only occasionally a monster, while the famous songs (Idiot Wind, Like a Rolling Stone, The Times They Are A-Changin’ etc) are used as a commentary on the man’s life as he lived it. Some things really stand out – as if the multiple casting for Dylan wasn’t enough (though Todd Solondz had done something not too dissimilar with his Alice in Wonderland-esque Palindromes in 2004) – one is the way that Haynes presents the 60s as a strange, distant, other world. Which of course they are now – further away culturally than chronologically – but Haynes was among the first to put this observation on film. Another is the way that Haynes and co-writer Oren Moverman draw comparisons between the 1960s and the time of the Old West (usually, with the 1960s, it’s the Edwardians and all that Sgt Pepper militaria). As for the performances as Dylan, take your pick. Blanchett has been praised, though I found her self-conscious. But then maybe she’s meant to be; she’s playing Dylan at his most iconic – shades, skinny black suit, smart haircut, at just the moment when he became the most famous pop star in the world, an icon in silhouette. A lot of people reading this might not even realise how big he was – bigger and cooler than the Beatles. The film’s a bit about that too.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The stunt casting
  • Play “spot the reference” – was that Jodorowsky?
  • Some great Dylan music
  • Edward Lachman’s remarkably varied cinematography

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

I’m Not There – at Amazon