Thursday, August 10, 2017

A24 A-to-Z: 8. "Locke" (2014)

Scene from Locke
In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

Released: April 25, 2014
Release Number: 8
Directed By: Steven Knight
Written By: Steven Knight
Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Coleman, Ruth Wilson
Plot: Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his carefully cultivated existence.

The energy surrounding year two of A24 had gotten a significant boost with the incredible Under the Skin, which pushed art house technique to its fascinating limits. Now that the studio showed how to push conventional actors into new and interesting directions, what would their next move be? The answer was far simpler than creating a black room or pulling random civilians off the street like Jonathan Glazer did. What director and writer Steven Knight did with Locke was push the limits of story by removing all unnecessary elements. With only Tom Hardy on screen, the story follows one man's 90-minute drive home from work as he takes a few important phone calls. What proceeded was an ambitious and interesting manipulation not only of dialogue, but of making a movie about driving a car into a heart wrenching story about being a man in the 21st century. Locke was less showy, but it was another impressive knockout for the studio.

Knight likes to claim that he didn't have too many influences for Locke. Having been nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay on Dirty Pretty Things, as well as acclaim for his work on Eastern Promises, he was interested with how an individual can evolve in very subtle ways. The one influence that he will fess up to is that he named his protagonist (played by Hardy) off of philosopher John Locke, who shared similar ideals with his character. All that was known is that he wanted to explore the struggles of one man in the simplest way possible, which was driving a car. His lack of a pitch beyond this proved to be difficult. How would he shoot one man driving a car for 90 minutes and make it engaging? The answer came almost out of practical means.

The story goes that Locke was shot in a BMW X5 over the course of six nights. Hardy was the only actor on screen with everyone else recording their lines in real time from a hotel room. With the car often attached to a flatbed truck, the story was shot like a one act play with each filming session recording the entire thing in one take. However, that was only the perception of the film. Because there was only 30 minutes of memory on any memory card, the scenes were shot in increments before being pulled over to change cards. Hardy would stay in character during these exchanges and performed the script twice a night, once per direction on the M6 motorway. By the end, Knight claimed that they had a dozen films, all shot on the same three cameras. Due to the lack of distinctive locations, they edited together the footage that worked for the moment.

The film was also rich with details. Knight told the actors to mix up their characters' performances throughout the filming to keep Hardy on his toes. Meanwhile, Hardy had to deal with a car that made a specific noise when it was running low on gas. It aggravated him, and Knight left the reactions in - only replacing the noise with an incoming call message. In total, there were 36 phone calls made throughout the film with half of them ending in Hardy being hung up on. Aesthetically, Knight claimed that the background was supposed to be moving to create the sense of constant change. Because it was also indistinct, it also represented a chaos in his life that he was trying to solve. Knight loved Hardy's ability to convey two different emotions while on the phone: one physically and the other audibly. It provided a deeper and more complicated sense of who the man was. 

The film was shown at the 70th Venice International Film Festival while out of competition. It also played at the Spotlight program at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie received generally positive reviews, especially for Hardy's performance. On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently has 91%. Olly Richards of Empire claims that it is a movie that cries out for the small cinema surrounded by total blackness. also calling it Hardy's career best. David Thomson also wrote in "How to Watch a Movie" that Locke was "more eloquent on where we are now, and on how alone we feel." The Los Angeles Film Critics Association would go on to give Hardy the Best Actor Award for that year. While it performed decently in the United Kingdom earning $3.2 million, it earned almost half in the United States during limited release with $1.3 million. Still, against a $2 million budget, it did extremely well for a pretty niche film.

While the film hasn't quite had the legacy that Under the Skin has had, the film has lead to a partnership between Knight and Hardy. While Knight had worked on the crime series Peaky Blinders before Locke, he would work with Hardy briefly on the series as Alfie Solomons. However, part of Locke's deal was that Knight and Hardy would get to work together on the series Taboo, whose plot involving 19th century slavery has been controversial and more elaborate than Locke ever was. While the film didn't exactly improve Hardy's reputation as a great actor, it ironically predated a bigger movie involving Hardy and cars called Mad Max: Fury Road, which would come out a year later and earn 10 Oscar nominations, winning six of them. Hardy has only gone on to bigger and better things since Locke, including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Revenant. Meanwhile, Knight is working on a variety of other projects, including two planned 2017 releases: Woman Walks Ahead and November Criminals.

For all of the simple tricks that Locke uses, it's still hard to not admire its craft. By stripping away the complex elements and turning the story into a one act play, Knight managed to explore the psyche of a man struggling to balance his life. He also showed how to showcase one actor's talents without restricting use of other stars. The film is an excellent example of how to execute a simple premise without making it dull or contrived. For all of the simple themes of this film, it was no match for A24's next one, which also played at the same Sundance Film Festival and became one of the year's breakout indie comedy hits. It was a film about abortion, but it was also about so much more. The movie was Obvious Child, and it marked the studio's return into taboo subjects with great executions. 

Up Next: Obvious Child (2014)

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