When I saw and marveled at Steven Knight’s Locke with Tom Hardy eight years ago, I assumed at the time that it was an unrepeatable tour de force. Writing about it in my DVD column for Cinema Scope (https://jonathanrosenbaum.net/2021/04/conspicuously-absent-or-apt-to-be-overlooked/), I described it as “84 minutes of a guy driving from Birmingham to London, or thereabouts, meanwhile talking to colleagues, family, and acquaintances on the phone,” which doesn’t begin to do the film justice but at least describes its narrative and dramatic form fairly simply.
I certainly couldn’t claim that Antoine Fuqua’s no less sedentaryThe Guilty, a Hollywood/Netflix thriller, is any sort of remake of Locke, an English art film. (For one thing, The Guilty is actually is a remake of a Danish movie with the same title that I haven’t seen, released only three years ago.) But the parallels between the two features still striking, interesting, and multiple. Apart from a couple of bathroom breaks, the hero/antihero here is again constantly on the phone, like the construction manager in Locke, the prisoner of the same supposedly real-time construction (more fiddled with in The Guilty) and apart from a few brief cameos from colleagues, this cop answering and relaying calls on a 911 detail is seen alone, similarly jabbering away with and to a multitude of characters whom we never see, meanwhile trying to bring order to the chaos and confusion he’s confronting at the same time that his own life appears to be falling apart. Both films are showcases, even showboats, for their lead actors — though Locke, the better film, with a more heroic and less screwed-up protagonist, is equally a showcase for writer-director Knight. Both movies deal with some of the insanities of modern life in general and the peculiarities of phone protocols and certain forms of phone-induced dislocation in particular. And in keeping with all these dislocations and imaginative relocations, both movies are paradoxically yet obsessively concerned with space: the distance from Birmingham to London, the sweep of Los Angeles and its suburban as well as urban freeways. [10/2/2021]