#Venice2013: Locke

Locke (dir. Steven Knight) 

Tom Hardy stars as a man on a car journey from hell in Locke, a real time thriller that never leaves the front seat of a BMW. It also happens to – probably – be the best film ever made about concrete.

Hardy has his best roles to date as Ivan Locke, a well-meaning and sensible site manager on a huge construction project in Birmingham, a role markedly different from his beefed up efforts in The Dark Knight Rises and Bronson. On the night before a vital concrete delivery, Locke receives a call from Bethan (Olivia Colman), who tells him she’s just gone into labour. We soon learn that Bethan is not his wife, but in fact a 43 -year-old woman he slept with on a job in London. She’s “not exactly an oil-painting” says Ivan (poor Olivia Colman!), and he claims to only have slept with her once, but over the course of the next 84 minutes, as Locke clocks down the M1 to join her - very much at the speed limit – his career, and his rock solid, if you like, solid concrete family life falls apart.

Along the way, Ivan conducts a vast number of phone conversations on his car’s speakerphone, not just with his wife, but his assistant from work (a chirpy Andrew Scott, Moriarty from Sherlock), various doctors and nurses, (including Sightseers’ Alice Lowe), and his kids who’re waiting for him to return for the big match on TV. The camera never leaves the car, and all we see of Hardy’s muscular frame is his upper body, but it doesn’t have the claustrophobic guise of Buried, the Ryan Reynolds thriller set in one box, instead embracing cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos’ cool night-time visuals.

It’s well put together for the most part by writer-director Steven Knight, most famous for scripting Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises for David Cronenberg, with just about the right notch of tension as Ivan tries to juggle all his bitter moral troubles. Much of it zings along, and my worries of it feeling like a stage, or worse, a radio play proved unfounded as Hardy’s measured performance has enough complexity t o savour at. But too often the script slumps into contrivance, in particular an extended answer phone message towards the end from his son that descended into unnecessary mawkishness.

Still, the star here is Hardy who carries Locke’s pain with grace and poise, and a Welsh accent that wasn’t necessary, but very welcome. In a way it’s a pity Locke plays out of competition here – he’d have a chance at the best actor prize if it was.

#Venice2013: My six picks

And so my trip to the Venice Film Festival begins, not with a bang but with a long, whimpering, drawn-out read of the festival programme. There’s no stand out film that everyone’s dying to see – not like last year’s The Master – but there are plenty of hot films out there that I’m looking forward to. British cinema, which languished in Cannes earlier this year, has a healthy cohort of films, and there’s good mix of genre and straight drama (sometimes in the same film – see Under The Skin). The weather’s good too. Here’s six films I’m especially looking forward to:

1. Festival director Alberto Barbera doesn’t have the heavyweight directors he’s had in numbers in previous years – Paul Thomas Anderson, Terence Malick, Ang Lee, Sofia Copolla – which means probably the biggest-name director in competition on the Lido, remarkably, is Terry Gilliam, whose new film The Zero Theorem marks a return to the science fiction territory in which he’s had his biggest successes (Twelve Monkeys, Brazil). Christoph Waltz, who Gilliam says has never been better than here, plays a computer genius who embarks on a project to discover the secret to existence, and is supported by a stellar cast, who include David Thewlis, Matt Damon and apparently Robin Williams in a cameo role. It looks like a cross between Brazil and Fisher King, which happily are his two best works. Could this give Gilliam the highest accolade of his career?

2. The most talk-about film among anglophile critics is undoubtedly Under The Skin, the long-awaited adaptation of Michel Faber’s chilly novel by reclusive director Jonathan Glazer, whose last film, Birth, premiered at Venice way back in 2004. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien in human form, who picks up hitchhikers for a mysterious assignment in Scotland – expect violent sci-fi, but with the novel’s cold satirical tone. Glazer has a strong reputation, still riding the wave of success from Sexy Beast, and the long post-production of the film (it was said to have finished filming in 2011), rather than giving birth to rumours of troubled production, has only whet appetites more.

3. Daniel Radcliffe has found his feet post-Potter acting (his turn in The Cripple of Inishmaan in London is going down a storm) and it continues in Kill Your Darlings, which receives its international premiere on the Lido. Radcliffe plays a young Allen Ginsburg, discovering his artistic sensibilities and sexuality at the genesis of the Beat movement. It received great notices at Sundance, and Radcliffe’s reputation as a serious actor is only improving.

4. Lukas Moodysson’s career has wandered since he made 2004′s extraordinary Lilya 4-ever (one of the best films of the last decade?). His new film We Are The Best returns to the youthful territory of his debut, the lovely Show Me Love (a kids film hilariously titled in its original Swedish as Fucking Åmål), this time with three teenagers who band together to play punk rock music in the 1980s.

5. Quebecois actor/director Xavier Dolan is being seen as a bit of a wunderkind and his new pic Tom A La Ferme is his fourth film in as many years. Tom, also played by Dolan, visits the countryside for a funeral, but is astonished by the fact that no-one there knows him, or his relationship to the deceased. Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, it promises the sort of tension of Vinterberg’s Festen, coupled with a sexual edge that Dolan’s work is known for.

6. Full Monty producer Uberto Pasolini debuts as a director with Still Life, the tale of a funeral officer (the always impressive Eddie Marsan) responsible for burying those whose relatives cannot be found. He writes eulogies, picks the music, but he is always the only one to hear them. When he’s made redundant for a more ‘efficient’ officer, he takes on the task of finding the lost relatives of his lonely, unknown neighbour. It looks sterling stuff, and a fine leading role for the great Eddie Marsan.

Other stuff. Also on my radar are two documentaries screening on the Lido – Alex Gibney’s Lance Armstrong pic The Armstrong Lie and Errol Morris’ profile of Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, which, rather like David Hare’s play Stuff Happens, sounds a sardonic title if ever I heard one. Stephen Frears has a new film starring the ubiquitous Steve Coogan in Philomena, which also stars Judi Dench in what some are calling an awards-worthy role, and Locke, from Eastern Promises writer Steven Knight shows the strength in numbers of British film. There’s the intriguing new film from Meek’s Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt, Night Moves, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning. Plus two films featuring renaissance man James Franco premiere, his own Child of God, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and Palo Alto, his novel adapted for the screen by Gia Copolla, granddaughter of Francis Ford. Finally Gravity, which premiered tonight on the Lido, has ecstatic buzz, but it’ll have finished its run at the festival before I reach Venice.

So now for Friday’s 5.35am (AM!) flight from Gatwick – what nightmares are made of. Follow my tweets, look me up on Instagram, and follow me on the blog, which I’ll be updating every few hours.

In the mean time, watch this advert warning against the threat of being hit in the face by fish in Venice:

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