Ivan Locke’s roadtrip begins with an intersection. His turn signal says one thing, but he shuts it off and goes the other way. Thus begins a film that could be subtitled ‘stuck in a car with Thomas Hardy.’ It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but buyer-beware, the entire 90 minutes of this film takes place inside his car as Locke, a construction foreman, makes a series of phone calls as he drives further and further away from his job and his family. This is a man who so desperately wants to do the right thing by his unborn bastard child – something his own father never did – that he is willing to risk everything. The film allows Thomas Hardy to stretch his acting chops and has been receiving all sorts of critical attention for its bold choices.
But is it a good movie? Honesty, I think it is very hard for most film critics to get past the novelty of director Steven Knight’s film. The claustrophobia created really raises the tension and I must admit that by the end of the film, I felt really invested in Locke’s life, and the choices he made. I guess my main take away from the film was that I was sort of disappointed that it was a film. The one-man play is a tried and true format and that’s really what this is. All the things that make a play so vital, being with this person over the life of 90 minutes, trapped with them as they live through each moment, are completely undercut by doing the same thing in a film. Every time Knight takes us outside of the car for a shot of it passing by some road signs or focuses long and hard on a series of blurry lights passing by it completely diffuses the tension of the moment. Every cut when we go from a medium to a close up of Hardy, I couldn’t help but thinking we were switching takes, and considering the vast number of takes of each angle of each scene that must have been shot, and how this truly fantastic performance must have been meticulously created in the editing bay.
On stage, there is nowhere to hide. I’m sure Thomas Hardy could pull off a masterful expression of this role sitting in a chair in a spotlight on a stage. I just don’t know why this story is being made as a movie. I felt the same way years ago when I saw TWO GIRLS AND A GUY with Robert Downey Jr. and Heather Graham. I guess theatre is dead. When a story that so obviously would have its best expression on stage cannot find its way there, I wonder why. Is just that the creator has no background in theatre and doesn’t understand how much better it would work there? Or is this just part of the slow, saddening cultural shift where theatre only means giant broadway musicals based on broad comedy Hollywood films and known film stars doing Shakespeare revivals to prove their chops?
I guess the thing that bothered me most was that I really did enjoy Locke. I was fascinated by it. I was a little disappointed when it ended because you were taken so far into this man’s life in 90 minutes but in the end, you only get to spend 90 minutes with him – you don’t see the next day, or the next, or get to see how these 90 minutes changed him. But I found it refreshing and different for a film. Just like everyone else. Have I too forgotten theatre? Wouldn’t it have been better to allow this character to live on in 200 different actors performing this at 200 different repertory theaters across the world? Why does Thomas Hardy get to have the definitive performance of Ivan Locke?
I know this is a very meandering review, or is it even a review? Locke is a film that should be seen, by virtue of it being different. If it had been made as a play, you might never have heard about it. But if it had been made as a play, and Thomas Hardy had been in it, and you sat in the audience and watched him do this role live for 90 minutes, wouldn’t that have been so much more amazing? I see ultra low budget indie films all the time that rely on originality and keeping their story simple to get past their budget. Here’s a film doing the same thing but with a budget, at least a bigger budget than it need. It’s certainly cleaner than it needs to be. I can see a gritty version of this with a no name actor being made for $5,000 and playing a ton of festivals. It almost lessens the impact that Locke is so glossy. For such a rough road trip the camera work seems so smooth, the colors so muted. Would the performance be getting such praise if you didn’t know the actor’s name? What if it was shot handheld on consumer grade camcorder?
And yet Locke is quite compelling. So yeah, you should see it. But I hope when you do, you will at least give a thought to the story as a story, and not a film, and the other ways it could have been expressed.