Locke ****1/2 (out of five)
I’m not a great fan of the word “masterclass” when used in reviews, as in “so-and-so gives a masterclass in…” But there is no denying that Steven Knight’s screenplay for Locke, his auteurist thriller set entirely in a single car and featuring only one on-screen performance (by Tom Hardy), is, literally, a masterclass in the craft: forget about all those screenplay books if you want to learn how to write one, and just watch this film again and again, because it’s got all the elements, and they’re laid out, clean and polished, for all to examine, understand, and utilise.
By stripping away all the elements of bloated filmmaking, and setting his real-time film in this single Mercedes, Knight, writer of Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things, and the television series Peaky Blinders, among many other credits, really is pulling back the curtain – doing a “Penn and Teller” – or, to use a more apt metaphor, lifting the bonnet – and showing us how a screenplay runs, and how like an engine it actually is. In this car, heading towards London, from about 8:20 to about ten pm at night, an entire story is richly told, whole characters are indelibly portrayed with nuance, ambiguity, precision, foibles, heroics and devastations, and we are thoroughly engaged, manipulated perfectly, carried along as by the superior mechanisms of Locke’s Mercedes, which glides through the night on highway roads, clean and quiet and perfect.
It would be fun to identify all of Knight’s tricks of the trade, because they’re not hidden; indeed they are so obvious that the film’s one real danger is that of being too “perfect”, of it’s clockworks being too loud, so that the ticking is annoying. Perhaps you’ll feel this way. Perhaps you’ll feel that one of Locke’s challenges is, by its sheer magnitude, simply an example of “raising the stakes”; that his main emotional journey carries him between two things that are too neatly chosen as perfect opposites; that the exposition is too frontal – that it’s all too neat. I could hear the screenplay ticking, the entire time, but it never bothered me, because that screenplay is such a thing of beauty, and it has been supported by such lustrous cinematography (Haris Zambarloukos) and performances (the perfect Hardy is surrounded by eleven other actors doing stellar work, especially as they are only ever heard on Locke’s car’s bluetooth speaker system) that, even as I admired, I cared, deeply. I cared for Locke, and his predicament, and his family, and his co-workers, and that other person he was talking to, who may represent “the inciting incident”, but who was also one of the most fully realised characters seen on-screen so far this year, and was only, ever, a voice on a car’s speaker phone. Amazing.