Sunday, 11 May 2014

Filmdog Weekly #13 (Locke, Blue Ruin)

Hello again dear Filmdoggers. Welcome to another roundup of the best and worst on your local silver screen. Fasten your seat-belts and plug in the Bluetooth because we're taking a ride with Tom Hardy in Locke before checking out Cannes Festival-winning revenge thriller Blue Ruin...

Locke (Greenwich Picturehouse)
'Atlas on wheels'

I have to hand it to the clever people responsible for editing the trailer for Locke. Never has a film about one man's car ride down the M1 seemed so gripping. The car starts and then...the menacing drone fades in, quietly humming away in the background. Then, snippets of echoed dialogue: 

"One little mistake...and the whole world comes crashing down around you"
"I'll fix it, it'll all go back to normal"
"Eventually...cracks appear" 
Without context the dialogue is meaningless but it certainly adds to the intrigue. On screen Tom Hardy is filmed from a number of angles inside his BMW, giving an acting masterclass in how to deliver a subtle, yet intensely powerful performance without opening his mouth, his eyes doing cartwheels while his facial muscles do somersaults. 



'GRIPPING' - The Times



Finally Locke buckles under the pressure, smashing and shaking the steering wheel with his hands, police sirens wailing, anguished screams muted as his face contorts in facial gymnastics. Then, quiet. "I will do what needs to be done", and the car door opens. It's quite brilliant. Surely this is the British Falling Down, only better?

Ultimately this all amounts to cinematic alchemy. 

The reality is a well executed and well acted drama that never hits the levels of excitement and intrigue sold to us in that 90 second trailer. What plays out is a real-time car journey as Ivan Locke travels down the motorway to attend the birth of his illegitimate baby. It's not great timing as the next morning he is due to supervise the biggest challenge of his career, a large-scale concrete fill (he's a foreman), and over the course of the film's running time he must confess all to his wife, explain to his boss why he won't be showing up for work in the morning and instruct a sozzled employee how to run the ship in his absence.

Locke does all this with great conviction, motivated by a sense of moral duty to be there for his new offspring in the way that his own father never could. Indeed he punctuates his numerous phone calls with a lecture to his imaginary father who sits invisibly in the back seat, adding some theatrics to an otherwise ultra-realistic screenplay. 

The pressure mounts as his situation endures further complications. His wife is naturally mad and wants him to pack his bags. The mother of his unborn child is a bit of an emotional train-wreck and he eventually loses everything after getting fired from his job. The weight of the world is on his back. He's Atlas on wheels.

There's an irritating trend in some recent films where the filmmaker decides to forgo the traditional concept of having an ending to their film, choosing instead to let the audience draw their own conclusions. It's a ploy that only works occasionally and Locke suffers because of it. The final shot in the trailer of the car door opening never happens (in fact it is a shot from the opening scene of the film where he closes his car door, only played in reverse to give the impression of the door opening. Clever editing once again). Ivan Locke doesn't get out of the car. Nothing actually happens. 

That's not to say Locke is bad, it's not. It's a decent drama that wouldn't be out of place on the BBC or the Playhouse Presents... series on Sky Arts, and would probably be better served as a theatre production. I just felt a bit conned.

My advice is this. If you want to pay good money to watch a man driving a car around, I suggest you pick up the phone and order a cab.

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Blue Ruin (Greenwich Picturehouse)
'More than a splash of claret thrown in'

Blue Ruin is the tale of Dwight (Macon Blair), a reclusive loner who spends his days searching through trash for his next meal and earns his money by way of recycling discarded cans he collects from the beach. On finding out that the man who killed his parents is to be released from prison, Dwight sets out on a revenge mission to his old hometown and soon finds himself caught up in a deadly dispute with the killer's entire family.

Once again I was sold on the trailer for Blue Ruin. Even without the helpful quote thrown in ('Recalls the dark wit of the Coens' Total Film) it had the hallmarks of a Coen brothers mystery with elements of violence, oddball characters and some interesting locations, however, where Joel and Ethan Coen are masters of adding subtle touches of black humour to their films Blue Ruin is completely devoid of any, leaving us with a graphically violent murder rampage in which none of the characters have any redeeming features. 

Dwight doesn't care whether he lives or dies and as a result neither do we. His motive, though understandable, is never fully developed into anything more than a 'you killed my folks so now you're all going to die' theme, and there's a twist that's revealed around the mid-point of the film, concerning the events of his parents murder, that doesn't make any difference to what preceded it or what happens afterwards, which renders it slightly pointless.

Dwight thoroughly convinces as the fragile loner who has spent years running away from his traumatic past, but once he achieves his primary goal he loses a certain amount of believability and a lot of empathy as he bungles his way through through a series of deadly situations in which the overwhelming tension is gently wound down rather than cut due to a lack of excitement in the action set pieces.

It's well acted and though it doesn't quite befit the lofty comparison to the work of the Coen brothers (whom I don't hold in such high esteem as the majority of film fans), it successfully delivers a hefty amount of nervous tension, especially in the first act which plays out with very little dialogue and a lot brooding, murderous intent. It was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival but I'm not sure that's quite the stamp of quality that it wants to be. It's beautiful (the photography is very good) and directed with an assured eye but ultimately I came away quite thinking it was soulless and emotionally empty. 

It's also another one of those films that doesn't finish with a traditional ending, so let me just say this.

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