Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Locke" and distracted driving: A man alone driving a UK freeway at night, providing suspense on the car phone

There’s a lot of hype over “Locke” (directed by Steven Knight) as a filmmaking exercise: how much can you accomplish in 85 minutes with one character in one setting (driving his car, talking on the phone – legally “distracted driving” perhaps).  British film likes set pieces (like the recent thriller “The Last Passenger”).  The comparison that comes to mind is (American) Marc Wolf’s monologue “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” based on his own play “Another American: Asking and Telling” (Sept. 19, 2011).

The film does make good visual use of the superhighway ahead and the traffic at night, seeming jarring to US viewers as he drives on the left side, from Birmingham, England to London.  There are many (other) characters in the story by voice, but the filmmaker resists the temptation to show flashbacks and stays within the car and highway environment. 

The one character on camera, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a construction manager.  The evening before (just at dark) a huge concrete pouring event for a new skyscraper in Birmingham,  Ivan gets a mystery phonecall.  He immediately heads toward London.  Desperately, he calls all his subordinates to talk them through the dig tomorrow.  It’s surprising how many “deals” it would take to get the job done. 

At one point, Locke tells a subordinate to get a particular manual, and it turns out the manual is in his own car, so he has to read the directions over the phone as he drives. (He’s well set up with hands free and Bluetooth devices.)  That reminds me of the fact that in the 1980s and 1990s I sometimes took critical listings home to “keep under the pillow”, a CYA practice that seemed necessary then but that would break security and privacy rules now.

Locke will lose everything he has as a result of this overnight trip and disappearance.  The setup of the film reminds me of a couple of occasions when I was very nervous about being out of town and away from work during a critical production run.  In the summer of 1976, over the last weekend of June, I went on vacation while an accounting closing would take place at NBC, where I worked.  I was so nervous about it that I returned from Seattle early (at little cost for breaking an air fare) and saw The Tall Ships instead.  (The “notebook” evidence was on a roll of terminal paper left on my apartment floor.)  I had one other incident like that later that year, over Christmas.  I regret both of them.  On New Years Day 1986, after my father had passed away that morning, I worked all day at Chilton in Dallas to support a year-end run for which I was responsible before flying home Jan. 2 to DC for the family funeral. 

I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say what Locke’s problem is.  Though a dedicated family man, he had indeed indulged in one fling with an unstable woman on a business trip.  The result was unintended fatherhood, the baby coming prematurely tonight.  I can cackle and say that this was a “heterosexual” problem.  But people can be put into family situations they did not choose, and the conflicts can be just as compelling.  The last story of my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book, called “The Ocelot the Way He Is” sets up a situation where a character based on me faces this at home, yet goes on a road trip after getting a mysterious invitation.  My story would make a “road movie” but not a single set piece, as there are many visual elements:  the home (the doorway and basement), the “cabin in the woods” he visits, the gymnasium, and the nearby intentional community, and an approaching storm and possible terror attack, all provide scenery (as does the encounter between Bill and another character).

I suppose that Locke's subordinates and peers back home would feel they're making sacrifices for Locke's procreative choices -- the old problem of the childless filling in for people with kids in the workplace. 

“Locke” could have played up the plot possibilities more than it does.  What if he gets in an accident?  It’s amazing that a man can “do the right thing”, lose everything and remain so calm in the process.  After all, he becomes a dad.  He accepts the consequences of his own choices.  But in life not everything is about choice.  “Duty” can make things really interesting.

The official site is here.This new distributor A24 is coming up with interesting fare.  In the UK it is offered by Lionsgate. Given the unusual nature of this film, I wonder if the bombast of Lionsgate’s intro would be a distraction here. Play it on YouTube when you get home.

I did wonder about the choice of the 2.35:1 aspect when closes-ups on Hardy in the car are so crtical.

I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA before a small Monday night audience.  I had mistakenly thought the film had already played!

Wikipedia attribution link for Birmingham, UK at night.  My only visit was in November, 1982 (train from there to London). 

Update:  Oct. 18

I "accidentally" got the DVD, which has an extra short, "Ordinary Unraveling" about the making of this unusual film. 

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