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Director Steven Knight on Why Locke Is No Ordinary Thriller

Steven Knight's takes an unconventional approach to drama and suspense in Locke.
Steven Knight's takes an unconventional approach to drama and suspense in Locke.
Courtesy of A24.

The Phoenix Film Festival kicks off a week long of movies and parties tonight with the screening of Steven Knight's Locke. With Tom Hardy as the lead and only visible actor in the film, which takes place in real time over an hour-and-a-half drive through the U.K., the film has the star power behind it to gain some major buzz. While the trailer pegs the movie as a thriller, Knight explains why audiences checking the film out at the festival shouldn't expect explosions, death threats, or assassinations from his film.

See also: 10 Must-See Movies at the Phoenix Film Festival 2014

Without giving away too much, Knight's film Locke centers around Ivan Locke, an ordinary man with a family and a job in construction played by Hardy. The drive he takes and the barrage of phone calls he receives during it alter his life forever -- and not necessarily for the better. His character's unwavering concept of rightness in the situation is reflected in his name, according to Knight.

"He's locked into his situation," he says. "It's also a reference to the philosopher [John] Locke, who was the first to present the idea of the individual over the group."

While Knight admits that for a thriller the main dilemma for Locke may seem trivial, he wanted to explore drama in the context of everyday events and relatable circumstances. Although Hardy's portrayal of the character as a working class Welshman was spot on, in general, his character felt anything but relatable, and his decisions were intensely frustrating in some parts.

"I did fear it would alienate female audiences," he says. "It's a story about men and their decisions and responsibilities."

However, Knight says at the U.K. and American screenings this hasn't been the case.  

Hardy donned a beard in the film, which Knight says "makes him more ordinary still as he didn't want to be too pretty."
Hardy donned a beard in the film, which Knight says "makes him more ordinary still as he didn't want to be too pretty."
Courtesy of A24

While the film excels at realistically simulating the droning on of a long night drive with effective cinematography, it also, unfortunately, carried the burden of constant reminders of how much longer the trip would last as Locke announced his ETA in phone calls throughout the movie. This acted more as a drag on the film than a device to drive suspense.

Despite that, Knight's film is an innovative presentation of a modern thriller, not just because of its surprisingly ordinary subject matter, but also because of the way Knight filmed it. Over the course of eight nights, Knight and Hardy drove through "cold, wet" roads and shot the film twice all of the way through with the voice actors calling in real time from a hotel conference room to provide dialogue.

In the end, there was one particular performance that stood out to Knight where Hardy had mastered the control of emotion it took to play the role. He says this rare opportunity was what drew Hardy, an in-demand actor, to the project.

"It really gives the actor the chance to calibrate their performance and actually invest in the character," Knight explains. "Hardy loves theater."

Knight says he's excited to get back to Phoenix's beautiful weather to see his film screened as the opening night feature for the Phoenix Film Festival. The film, so far, has been received by audiences with a lot of emotion and attachment to personal memories.

"People will tell me, 'That's the journey my father never made,' or, 'That's the journey I never made,'" he says. "The question you're left with at the end is: Was it worth it?'"

See Knight's experimental film Locke at Harkins Scottsdale 101 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3, for its only screening during the festival. For tickets and more information, visit www.phoenixfilmfestival.com.

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