Directed by: Steven Knight
Starring: Tom Hardy, Tom Holland, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott, Ruth Wilson
Steven Knight’s unconventional thriller is a genuine one off, as tense as any action movie but also a formidable character study of a man trying to escape the malign shadow of his father, a film you would have loved to see pitched to a Hollywood mogul in the Bruckheimer, Silver mould.
“He’s stuck on the road, and has one hour and 20 minutes to get to the hospital where a woman he had a one night stand with is now giving birth.”
“We love it; tension, a ticking clock. But nix the one night stand angle; too downbeat. Why don’t we make her a sexy schoolteacher, put a bomb in the school and make him an explosives expert?”
“Hmmmm, well actually he's in construction more than demolition."
“OK, so what’s the hook? What gets you on the edge of your seat?”
“Well, he has left the construction site on the night of the biggest concrete pour in European history and has left the documentation in his car. Now he has to talk his alcohol dependent subordinate through it.”
“Let me get this straight - you want me to get excited about some shit-heel pouring concrete into a hole?”
“Yes, and there is one other thing. We film it in real time, with just him in his car, and all the conversations take place on the phone."
Your first thought is, why cinema? Couldn’t this work just as well as a stage, or even radio, play? The answer is a resounding no. This is a film built on tiny details, the gradual rising of despair and anguish wrought large on Tom Hardy’s face as he realises it may not be just cement he will be pouring away. Only film could forge such drama from such mundane matters. Playing to the gallery would make this an empty piece of theatre. As a piece of cinema, its investigation into the emotional carnage wrought by one action is a marvel. Hardy gives a riveting and complex performance as a man whose world is collapsing around him due to one moral decision. His steadfast dependability and ability to quantify and compartmentalise problems may make him an ideal site manager, but it makes him an emotionally unavailable, ineffective husband.
The decision to make Locke Welsh may be distracting at first, but it helps distance Hardy from his previous larger, more psychopathic roles. His calming lilt gives the dialogue a soothing reasonable quality that makes the cracks of anger that momentarily erupt all the more shocking. This Everyman may just be his best role, Hardy has always had a brooding leonine presence; like Oliver Reed, you believe he is a capable man, able to play both brutal and intelligent.
Knight brilliantly uses the inside of the car as both confessional booth, coffin and torture chamber, the influence of his dead father's previous action never far from his mind. Locke’s conversations with him may be a somewhat awkward device in the narrative and literal journey, but they are pivotal to understanding the decision he has made, despite the huge price he will pay.
Locke is as dependable and righteous as his dad was louche and unreliable. The dramatic irony is that, in running in the opposite direction from his patriarchal influence, he has ended up meeting him in the middle. Locke’s decision may just have created the fractured and emotionally damaged family that he despised his father for in his own upbringing.
It may be a film with a gimmick, but it is so much more than that. Knight is a writer that I have not enjoyed much over the years, seeming somewhat histrionic, raising issues but never exploring them fully. After this and Peaky Blinders I may need to reassess that viewpoint.
A relatively minor performance at the box office means you owe it to yourself to rediscover this on home cinema. It's not just a great British film, but a great film, period.
By Jason Abbey