Tom Hardy is Ivan Locke (yes, after the philosopher John Locke), a foreman who leaves his construction site for a city tower the night before a massive concrete pour and makes a turn in his BMW SUV that will equivocally but inevitably change the course of his and many people's lives at the end of this lean, perfect 85-minute film. Writer- director Steven Knight, pictured below (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things, Redemption, the upcoming series Peaky Boots), has created a new genre with this film--the moral road thriller.
In a discussion after a showing of the film, Knight said he sold the concept with a two-paragraph description with Tom Hardy attached. Knight started writing it in November 2012 and filmed it the next February in 9 days (6 with Hardy, 3 without) for under 2 million dollars, after 5 days of table reads.
It's an extraordinary film about an ordinary man (Knight said he likes to make films about "strong men in very weak positions"), and in may ways the making of this film mimics that theme. The film is simply Hardy as Locke driving and taking phone call after phone call in his vehicle as he drives. That's it. Yet everyone he calls becomes an amazingly fleshed out character for us whom we can see in our mind's eye. And the tension grows as Locke's backstory unfolds along with his psychology, and we're hooked for the whole ride.
The movie was shot with an ethos--to "take a vacation from conventional film" and "take ordinary stuff and make it attractive." The final movie looks like a painting (kudos cinematographer Haris Zambarioukos, who borrowed a reflective technique from the 1960s). As one audience member put it, the picture resembles a Rembrandt. It was shot with 3 digital cameras in the BMW, which was pulled on a flatbed truck, save for a couple of nights during which the back seats were taken out, the cameras were put there, and Hardy actually drove. They shot the film all the way through each time, then Knight and his editor cut together the various versions. All of the other actors were performing from a hotel room with "wine and biscuits." There was no ADR. Hardy had a cold when they started so they went with that.
In short, Knight "invited the chaos of the world in" and left all concern for road continuity out. The important action takes place within the car and within the character. Locke has made a moral decision from which he is determined not to waiver, despite the stakes at hand. Locke is collected, at least on the surface (they chose a Welsh accent for him patterned after Richard Burton's reading of "Under Milkwood" because it's lyrical and calming); Locke is certain that there are simply rational, practical steps to be taken and that if that is done, all will work out.
Knight described the film as "an ordinary tragedy." But an ordinary film it is not. It's really a masterfully affecting piece of writing and filmmaking, not to mention a terrific performance from Tom Hardy, who first impressed Knight--and this writer--in Christopher Nolan's Inception.
I will give away only two things (stop now if you're paranoid about spoilers!): it begins with the threatened construction of a building and ends with the successful construction of a quite another sort. And there's an absolutely brilliant scene towards the end in which Locke's son calls him late at night from under his duvet that's incredibly moving and, depending upon how you interpret it, offers hope or heartache. Well, both, actually.
Here's the trailer:
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