Locke (2013)

Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) must juggle the collapse of his marriage, pacify the pleas of the woman about to give birth to his child, and oversee the preparation of a job that he has just left behind in order to be at the hospital – all of this he must do on the drive from Birmingham to London constrained to the phone in his car.


Ivan is a level-headed pragmatist whose efficiency is the evident force behind his success as a construction foreman. Though now, due to a one night stand with a woman he felt sorry for, he decides to be present for the birth, which means abandoning one of Europe’s biggest ever concrete pours for the base of a skyscraper. All we see of Ivan is how he interacts with others over the phone; how he deals with mounting levels of stress from all directions. Somehow – under the weight of overlapping crises – he maintains a rational distance that allows him to remain in control, even as events tear away from him and spiral.

Ivan shares his name with the Enlightenment age English philosopher John Locke, who supported the theory of the tabula rasa, or: the blank slate. This theory proposes that humans do not have inherent or innate qualities, that they are instead shaped by their own experience. In the case of nature vs. nurture the blank slate supports the latter. This is the defining feature of, and prime motivation for, Ivan. Between phone calls he is caught arguing with the spirit of his late father, raging at empty backseat through the rear-view mirror, as though he is being beckoned from beyond the grave to become a failure and a bad father. Ivan uses this fury as fuel to break the cycle of nature – to prove that he can decide his own fate and straighten the family name. Not only does he decide to be present for the birth, but he tasks himself with overseeing an enormous job that he will likely be fired from anyway. This does not matter, Ivan has set a precedent of loyalty that transcends the divide of business and personal, significantly painted with the metaphor of laying the foundation of a building. But as he states himself of the skyscraper, if cracks appear at the base, support is compromised and it becomes a threat.

Like the eponymous character, we too are locked in this situation; trapped in this single location for the journey. However, the film seems to not only be aware of this, but weary and apologetic, as it aims to keep things visually interesting by constantly cutting to external shots and various distracting angles. Shooting the entire film from start to finish in one take (or 37 minutes due to the capacity of the memory cards) and repeated two or three times a night for 6 days, the performance naturally has tension built into it’s construct and thus holds a pressure of it’s own. When permits to film on the M1 were revoked at the last minute, it is as though life was imitating art and echoing Ivan’s struggle to arrange road closures. Not only that, but the cold that Locke suffers is actually Hardy’s; the frustration that bursts out of Locke in reaction to the call waiting alert is Hardy’s too – actually reacting to the petrol gauge as it interrupted the drama and altered later in post-production. The tension of the film is palpable as it is, to some degree, real. buried Buried (2010), the single-location thriller released a few years prior, had a similar concept and incorporated a similar style, with sole actor Ryan Reynolds buried alive in a coffin experiencing a more life-threatening stress whilst other characters appear as voices in phonecalls. Focussed on a more extraordinary situation, this Hollywood film is suitably made into a spectacle through it’s set design which allowed this minimal space to be transformed. Locke, which is so gripping for its realism and its nuanced performance, does not need this escape or stylism. There is enough movement in frame to keep the your attention and Hardy offers a captivating performance in the subtlety of his acting: each micro-expression magnified by the intensity and intimacy of the camera. When Ivan first smiles it comes as a relief, it feels sincere and hard-earned and so we experience this same satisfaction. It seems that this could have all been heightened if the direction hadn’t taken attention elsewhere – it was as though the film’s strength was being treated as it’s weakness, and so it missed out on the payoff of its bold simplicity if it had simply let the action unfurl in longer, uncut takes. That being said, the tension is inescapable still, and the film is undoubtedly ambitious as it is. An impressive film that shows the capacity of film to do so much with so little.. and Tom Hardy.

Stalingrad (2013)

Written for RAF News Feb 2014

Russia’s first Imax film explores one of the bloodiest battles in history that marked a major turning point in World War II against Nazi Germany. We follow a band of Soviet soldiers as they attempt to defend a devastated building from attack along with it’s last inhabitant: a young Russian woman who refuses to leave – this is her home.


The 3D technology and CGI is at its best when revealing the scale of chaos that engulfs Stalingrad, but it is soon honed in to focus on this group of soldiers and their relationship with Katya (Maria Smolnikova). This frail woman and the building she lives in will become a symbol of what the Russian forces are fighting for.

Most of the film is spent in anticipation of battle with the soldiers looking out through the sights of their rifles from this new command post, and yet there is little strategy devised by the group – at one point even coming down to the flip of a coin. The battle sequences are surprisingly scarce and over-the-top; depicting the close combat fighting that is characteristic of Stalingrad through stylised slow motion that draws inspiration from Zack Snyder’s 300.

Confined mostly to this building the 3D element of the film quickly becomes redundant despite the stated intention to involve the viewer in the emotional drama. The most interesting thread in Stalingrad is the humanised depiction of Captain Kahn (Thomas Kretschman), the Nazi officer who leads the attacks on the building. But where this one cliché is averted others are simply reinstated. Women and children become bargaining chips to be traded for emotional investment.

The jump from stylised violence to drama seems to detract from both styles as one is left wondering how serious to take the film. Stalingrad is a film that features impressive use of 3D and CGI during battle sequences, but the drama that takes focus for the majority of the film is slow and unmoving and not improved by 3D.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013)

Written for RAF News Dec 2013

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is surrounded by Life: a magazine that features the awe-inspiring majesty of nature. He works in the basement however, processing the negatives of these photographs – glimpsing beauty but never truly experiencing it. The closest he gets to experience anything notable is in daydreams that transport him to a world in which he is able to steal the attention of his office crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). A world in which he can jump through the window of a burning building to save her three-legged dog.

DF-11070-Edit - Ben Stiller in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

Walter’s realised daydreams bring huge scale fantasies into the mundanity of his real life. But when he misplaces a negative from renowned photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) that is said to capture the quintessence of Life, Walter sets out into the wild to track him down and save his job – trading fantasy for true personal experience.

As director Stiller showcases his familiarity with different comedic styles: the fantasy sequences allowing for the scenes to take on different tones from slapstick to parody. Wiig also demonstrates her well-practiced character acting as a former cast member of hit American sketch show Saturday Night Live. Together they have a natural dynamic but this is used very scarcely as Walter flees to Europe alone. It would seem as though the romantic interest is abandoned half way through the film but it becomes clear that Walter’s journey is more about self-discovery.

Tracking Sean from Greenland to the Himalayas, sweeping shots and wide framing revel in the grand scale of these picturesque locations. Accompanied by an ever-inspirational soundtrack, and alongside the odd drop into fantasy, The Secret Life of Water Mitty can at times feel like a series of trailers but it certainly never slows down enough for you to lose interest.

Under the Skin (2013)

Written for RAF News Jan 2013

Scarlett Johansson assumes the role of an alien in human form that observes the surrounding life in Glasgow; stalking and seducing understandably eager young lads and trying to understand what it is to be human. Director Jonathan Glazer, who debuted with Sexy Beast, returns to cinema with his first film since 2004: a conceptual science fiction that can at times become hard to watch.

Film Review Under the Skin

Under the Skin is shot primarily through a series of hidden cameras that capture Johansson observing and interacting with the real townsfolk of Glasgow. We are thrown deep into the overwhelming sensory experience of shopping centres and crowds leaving a football stadium. Having adopted the voyeuristic alien’s perspective, these familiar experiences, accompanied by amplified sound, can be just as unsettling as the more experimental style that will endow the more sinister elements of the film. Implementing a style that intends to immerse and unsettle, Glazer effectively blurs the line between film and reality.

This siren like alien drives around in her van, a score of screeching drones foreboding the fate of the horny Glaswegians who enter. Forward and alluring, paired with the fact that she looks just like Scarlett Johansson, this succubus gives the young men very little chance to escape: seductively undressing  and coaxing them to a rather surreal demise.

The jumps from documentary style footage to the constructed scenes that feature more abstract visual effects, align you with Johansson as you become alienated and long for something to hold onto. There is not much dialogue and, with a central performance that is intentionally rigid and non-responsive, the film can drag along at times, particularly in the second half.

Under the Skin is a little more experimental in style, but it is truly an original film with moments of utter brilliance.