FRESH POUR: Locke (2014) / Brick Mansions (2013)

Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

dir. Steven Wright

Tom Hardy has quickly made a reputation as one of cinema’s most fascinating new actors, skyrocketing in the past five years from smaller pictures like Layer Cake to blockbuster villainy in The Dark Knight Rises (with much better roles in films like Bronson and Warrior).  Locke is much more along those lines, a smaller-scale character study/drama whose conceit is that the entirety of the film’s 90 minutes takes place inside the character’s car for the entirety of his journey. The result is a mixed bag at times, but Tom Hardy’s tremendous performance and a surprising dose of dry humor in crucial moments helps to elevate this film beyond its gimmick.

Ivan Locke (Hardy, in his best Welsh accent – though he mostly sounds like a very light-skinned British Indian), a construction foreman who leaves the site of an incredibly important concrete pour in Birmingham to be there for an old one-night stand who is suddenly having her baby in London. The timing being at its absolute worst, and with his entire life crashing down upon him, Locke takes it upon himself to be there to support a woman she barely knows, break the news to his family, and maintain the logistics of his job all over the phone on this lonely night drive along the M6.

The film is, first and foremost, an actor’s showcase for Hardy, and he runs with it – Ivan Locke is a masterclass in barely restrained control, playing a man who has dedicated his life to working hard to make sure everything is all right. British character actors like Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott accompany him over the phone, the audience never experiencing anything but their voiceovers; luckily, the performances and script are tight enough that we are left to imagine what is happening on the other side of the line. One particular delight is Andrew Scott’s alcoholic “concrete farmer” and friend Donal, who must really step up to the plate given Locke’s absenteeism, to hilariously exasperated results.

Throughout the film, Locke remains convinced he can make everything work, even though this one single mistake leads him to put both his job and his family in jeopardy. Even though he is the one who is losing everything, the majority of the film sees him needing to calm everyone else down while they react to his impulsive decisions. The few cracks in his sanity or stability come in the rare moments when he is not on the phone; Hardy will occasionally engage in florid, piss-and-vinegar monologues to the rear view mirror, imagining his absentee dad to be watching him from the backseat (I got flashes of Bronson during these bits).  It’s at least somewhat disappointing to have Locke’s character flaws come down to something so simple and clichéd, but as the film is about family and commitments, it does tie in well to the central theme. As Locke, Hardy carries the whole world on his shoulders, and seems to take pride in how well he thinks he can handle it, which is perhaps the most interesting part of his character.

Wright keeps the action confined to the car, but not in an overly restrictive way – the camera is simply committed to capturing every nuance of Hardy’s performance, occasionally reminding us of the strange tranquility that often comes with long, lonely nighttime highway driving. The world outside the car might as well not exist, keeping Locke insulated from everyone else as he deals with his own internal problems. Dickon Hinchcliffe’s ambient score serves as an appropriate accompaniment; there are no stops, no detours, no cops pulling him over (it was refreshing to hear in a throwaway line that Locke is committed to driving the speed limit) – the drama is restricted to the characters, the drive itself turning the car into a waiting room of sorts, leaving such a hands-on man powerless to do anything but persuade others to do things for him.

To hazard a pun, there are certainly a few speed bumps along the journey, and it’s far from a smooth ride. The film’s relatively stripped-down nature can make it feel repetitive – Locke receives a call from his boss/friend/lover/wife/son, he tells them everything will be fine, they react to him, he reassures them again or tells them to do something, they hang up, he yells at his dad for a few minutes, wash, rinse, repeat. The film also sticks the landing a bit, as there is no real feeling of climax or resolution to Locke’s journey – he doesn’t get to where he’s going by the end, he merely leaves us behind as the credits roll. To be fair, many of the character relationships are resolved, but it feels anticlimactic, perhaps because of the muted effect of having these scenes play out over the phone. While there are many changes to Locke’s life, it is hard to see how he himself changes as a result of them. I honestly believe that the film ends about five to ten minutes before it should, as if the filmmakers just gave up and let the character go on his way.

Despite these criticisms, however, it is still a mesmerizing watch. Hardy is fantastic in it, and I really admired the understated humor of the film – Locke’s calm in the face of these dramatic and life-changing events becomes almost comical; it’s a wonderfully stripped-down, performance-based picture with a compelling, fantastic actor in the driver’s seat.

Clint’s Verdict: Loved It!

Locke Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever Tom Hardy assures someone everything will be okay
2) Drink any time you see who is calling on the dashboard display
3) Drink every time Locke launches into a piss-and-vinegar monologue to his imaginary dad in the backseat
Finish Your Drink When:
Locke says, “Two words I learned today: Fuck Chicago.”

Brick MansionsBrick Mansions
dir. Camille Delamarre
Relativity Media

In the middle of the parkour craze of the mid-2000s, the film District B13 used the free-running style as the basis for a wacky dystopian buddy-action movie that we’ve covered on the podcast before (along with its sequel). Now along comes its English remake, Brick Mansions, which transplants the setting to future Detroit and replaces one of the main characters with the late Paul Walker, and boy is it just terrible.

The plot goes like this: In 2018, we decide to wall up a particularly crime-ridden part of Detroit called Brick Mansions, which (surprise!) just turns it into more of a slum. Tremaine Alexander (RZA, who’s never been a particularly compelling actor), a gang boss within Brick Mansions, has acquired a nitrogen bomb and is ready to blow it up unless the city pays the ransom. To that end, the mayor decides to send star undercover cop Damien (Walker) into the slums, with the help of Brick Mansions native and ex-con Lino (David Belle, reprising his role from the original), to retrieve it. What follows is an incomprehensible mess of choppily edited fight sequences, muddled sociopolitical messages, and extremely flat performances across the board.

The biggest problem, unfortunately, should have been its saving grace: the parkour gimmick. David Belle is one of the founders of the sport, so it was a nice bit of stunt casting in the original, and the fight scenes felt relatively innovative and well-shot in District B13.  In Brick Mansions, however, first-time director Delamarre chops up the footage into sheer chaos, leaving you to the point where you simply cannot tell what is going on. Furthermore, Belle is the only one who knows parkour in the film, unlike the original where parkour was essentially the basis of all the fights. This leaves him to pick up the slack, and it feels extremely strange and ill-fitting to the rest of the movie (barring a few humorous moments where Paul Walker reacts with amusement and confusion at Belle’s antics). The pacing, I daresay, is actually too quick; the film is only 90 minutes long, but it feels like it really wants to get itself over with – scenes are not given appropriate breathing room, leading to a migraine-inducing barrage of scenes and dialogue that passes over you like a blur.

Shitty action films don’t have to have great performances to survive, but it sure would help here. Walker was never the most versatile or talented actor, but he has a basic charisma and likability that gets him through roles like this (which is basically his Fast & Furious character all over again). He has little to no charisma with Belle, though, which is made worse by Belle’s rudimentary command of English (every line of his is clearly and nakedly dubbed over), and the fact that Belle was never really an actor to begin with. RZA, as previously mentioned, tries his best but he’s no actor, and the two women are simply there to look attractive and fight each other (the filmmakers literally have two supermodels, one in basically a schoolgirl outfit and the other in an S&M dominatrix costume, fight each other with bondage equipment). The film contains a theoretically great message about the systematic capitalist oppression of minorities and the lower classes, and showing a socialist revolution where the system comes crumbling down through action by the people against the state, but the execution is so muddled and botched that I was never sure if RZA was supposed to be a villain or not by the time the tables had turned. Suddenly, the bad guy is a good guy within five minutes of dialogue and my neck hurts from all the whiplash.

I think the word ‘unnecessary’ is used far too often in describing films, especially remakes; it implies that there is a ‘necessity’ to creating a film that is intangible, making it a very lazy criticism. However, I think if any film qualifies this year, Brick Mansions may just be that film. It absolutely exists as a lesser shadow of its original self, and is a disappointing way to send off the career of a man who died tragically and, by all accounts, was a really nice guy. At least we’ve got whatever he did for Fast & Furious 7 to look forward to.

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It

Brick Mansions Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever the film ramps into slow-motion to punctuate an action beat
2) Drink every time RZA waxes philosophical about the world or his management style
3) Drink any time Paul Walker reacts to David Belle’s parkour moves
Finish Your Drink When:
You see the film’s dedication to Paul Walker, complete with cheesy red-carpet photo

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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