June 2014

For No Good Reason and Locke

Rick Alber

This month I enjoyed two films that explore the price some people pay to follow their moral compass and do “the right thing.” The first movie, For No Good Reason, is a hip, visually striking profile of the life and work of artist Ralph Steadman. The other, Locke, is the fictional story of one night in the life of a calm, controlled, highly-competent man whose personal and professional life dramatically unwinds over the course of ninety minutes. 

 I recommend both films. For No Good Reason should be seen on a big screen, where Steadman’s work can be fully appreciated. Locke is a solid thriller and character study that should work fine in your home theater, or on an airplane.

 British-born Ralph Steadman is best known for his illustration of a series of articles and books written by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in the 1970s and 1980s. Steadman’s unique drawings are frequently vibrant and unsettling, complimenting Thompson’s lurid, stream-of-consciousness rantings. Like Thompson’s writing, they appear hurried and dashed off, but are beautiful in their structure and detail. The film captures Steadman’s meticulous work process as he creates splattered and twisted images laden with political expression.

 On camera, the still-working Steadman is revealed as a thoughtful, quiet 77-year-old who professes a lifelong desire to use art to make a difference in the world. The acclaim he enjoyed working with Thompson gave him a platform for reaching more people, but didn’t change his art. He eschewed the mainstream opportunities that could have increased his wealth and fame, choosing instead to remain an activist. Over the next three decades he created vicious, dark send-ups of establishment targets: the self-possessed wealthy, the corrupt church, our murderous military-industrial complex, craven politicians, and much else. 

 For No Good Reason features Johnny Depp – who played Hunter S. Thompson in the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – interviewing Steadman accompanied by beautiful, sometimes animated, displays of Steadman’s amazing work. Though some stylized re-enactments of Steadman’s adventures with Thompson miss the mark, video footage of the two of them in Las Vegas, at the Kentucky Derby, and covering political conventions, and prize fights are fascinating. The film is directed by cinematographer Charlie Paul.

 Remember that scene in the thriller you saw a few years ago where the hero is driving at night, and tension climbs as he talks through some threatening problem on the phone while negotiating traffic? Locke, a new film by Steven Knight (Redemption), multiplies that scene by 100 and builds an entire movie around it. Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) plays dedicated family man Ivan Locke who drives into the night following a long day at the construction site where he’s to oversee the critical pouring of the concrete foundation the next morning. Viewers spend the rest of the night with Locke in his car as he jeopardizes his career, his family, and the foundation of “his” skyscraper building by attending the unexpected birth of a child he fathered with a woman he hardly knows. 

 As he drives, Locke fields dozens of calls from the mother in labor, his wife, his children, his boss – listed as Bastard on his caller ID – the police, and perhaps most gripping, the insecure, inexperienced assistant thrust into Locke’s role orchestrating the multimillion dollar concrete work only hours away. The conversations reveal that Locke has been the dependable, competent, rock of stability for the emotional, often ineffectual people in his life and work. One crisis after another challenge Locke’s composure and his moral certainty, much like his decision to abandon the concrete pour threatens the foundation of his building.

A single-character film that takes place almost entirely inside a car sounds like a long slog for any viewer, but the way the intricate, metaphor-laden plot unwinds and the exceptional acting by Hardy make the running time fly by. Kudos to music director Nick Angel, whose collection of exceptional cinematic musical work continues to grow.

 Both films will be available on DVD this summer and may screen at San Francisco’s awesome Castro Theatre.

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