June, 2014, Drama


My last review, (The Immigrant) lamented the damage a miserably written script can do to otherwise gifted actors. As if to re-establish the cinematic equivalent of cosmic balance, writer/director Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises) delivers this remarkable film that comes with a dazzlingly crafted screenplay and an Oscar-caliber performance by England’s Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises), a 37-year-old actor still relatively unknown in the United States. With a handful starring roles in movies to be released over the next 18 months or so, that anonymity will be forever lost.

 Hardy plays Ivan Locke; husband, father of teenage sons and highly successful construction manager about to oversee the complicated pouring of a foundation for the largest commercial office structure yet to be built in England. But on the night before that process is scheduled to begin, the audience meets Locke not on the construction site or at home with his family, but behind the driver’s seat of his car as he races towards London.

 Why is he abandoning his post at this critical juncture? What’s so important? Is it worth risking his career to accomplish? Will the pressure brought to bear by the investors, his wife and his subordinates compel him to change his mind and turn back?   

 Over the course of 85 anxiety-producing minutes of screen time, Locke employs his car’s cell phone to explains his mission, defends his decision, (in venom-laced monologues with his dead father) cajoles his subordinates into taking great risks on his behalf, placates his wife and reassures his confused sons while managing to keep the outcome of his efforts a secret until the final seconds of the movie. And all of this is accomplished within the confines of the front seat of his gleaming black sedan.

 Knight is no stranger to movies featuring males leads with strong ethical standards; American audiences were first introduced to Chiwetel Ejiofor (the star of 12 Years a Slave) when Knight cast him 12 years ago as the impoverished but highly-principled physician in Dirty Pretty Things, a riveting thriller about illicit trafficking in human organs. And the dialogue provided Viggo Mortensen’s soft-spoken wheelman in Easter Promises quietly conveys Knight’s ability to express a discernible moral code even among London’s criminal underworld.

 Knight and Hardy give audiences a corporate everyman, suddenly forced to prioritize conflicting values that could confront anyone. Locke’s soft-spoken telephone demeanor and icy reserve belie the extent of his character’s crisis and it’s to Hardy’s credit that he’s able to radiate a principled integrity in the midst of appearing to ignore, betray and bitterly disappoint those who know him best. Here’s an Oscar worthy performance in an otherwise “small” British film that probably won’t generate sufficient box office to offer this brilliantly skilled actor the praise he deserves.

 Given the physical confines of the action, this is a movie that can be enjoyed on a television screen just as effectively as in a movie theater. Whichever venue you choose, my advice is the same:




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