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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Watching “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “Locke”

I’ve been dying to see “Godzilla,” and would have rushed out to see it opening weekend if not for my desire to see two smaller films that quietly slipped in and out of Capital Region theaters: “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “Locke.”

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is a vampire movie as directed by Jim Jarmusch, the indie auteur behind elegantly deadpan movies such as “Stranger Than Paradise” and “Down by Law.” Jarmusch sometimes brings his offbeat sensibility to genre, creating weirdly memorable films such as “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai,” a crime/Mafia film infused with Eastern philosophy, and “The Limits of Control,” a politically tinged hit man film. When I heard that Jarmusch was making a vampire film, I basically started salivating. How would he approach this particular subgenre of horror?

While most vampire films focus on appetite, seduction and sex, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is more concerned with immortality and the passage of time. It tells the story of two vampires, Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston), who live on separate continents — Adam resides in Detroit, while Eve lives in Morocco — but have been lovers for centuries. When Eve senses that Adam is a little depressed, she books an all-nighter to Detroit. The visit goes pretty well, until Eve’s wild younger sister (Mia Wasikowska) shows up.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” has been described as a hangout movie, because its main appeal, for viewers, is the opportunity to hang out with the characters. The film does have a plot, but Jarmusch is less concerned with story than with what it’s like to be a vampire — to live forever, accumulating knowledge and skills, while new generations of humans devise new and creative ways to screw up the world. Over the past several hundred years, Adam has mastered music, becoming an accomplished musician with a large collection of beautiful vintage instruments; Eve is devoted to literature, and spends her time reading and memorizing great books. Both are committed to inflicting as little harm on people as possible, obtaining their blood through reliable black market channels. (Their reluctance to feed on living humans recalls the vampires who are trying to go straight in the TV show “True Blood,” as well as the good vampires of the “Twilight” series.)

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is a dazzling film — visually exciting, stylish, extremely well-acted, dryly humorous and subtly political. It features great settings — the nighttime footage of Detroit is both eerie and pretty, in a dilapidated sort of way — and great music. At times, the music feels a bit slow, mainly because Jarmusch is in no hurry to reach a destination. But patient viewers who appreciate Jarmusch’s worldview will find “Only Lovers Left Alive” to be a trip worth taking.

The film “Locke” is about a trip in the literal sense. It tells the story of what happens to a man while he drives two hours from Birmingham, England, to London. Set almost entirely in the vehicle — and featuring just one actor, the great Tom Hardy — the film opens with the man getting into his car, and ends when he comes to a stop. At first, we know nothing about him — who he is, where he is driving, or why he is going there. Over the next 85 minutes or so, the blank spaces get filled in.

Directed by Steven Knight, “Locke” is a gimmick movie, and it never entirely transcends its gimmick. Throughout the course of his drive, the man — named Ivan Locke — answers and makes telephone calls: to his boss, to his wife, to the underling tasked with doing Locke’s job. SPOILER ALERT! It gradually becomes clear that Locke is normally a calm, collected man, but that a misstep has caused his personal life, and now his professional life, to completely unravel. Psychologically speaking, this is fascinating territory, but “Locke” makes the mistake of cramming too much into its runtime: Locke has issues with his father, and values his work more than his lived ones, etc. I kept waiting for things to get a little more interesting — for something unexpected to happen — but they never really did.

That said, this is an engaging film. It has a striking visual style, with Knight giving the traffic lights and road signs a kinetic, impressionistic look. (I was reminded of director Michael Mann, particularly his 2004 film “Collateral.”) And Hardy is excellent. Best known for portraying the villainous Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Hardy is an intense, charismatic and chameleon-like actor, capable of shape-shifting from one role to the next. (Check out his performance as real-life prisoner Charlie Bronson in the 2008 film “Bronson” to see what I mean.) In “Locke,” he manages to be likable and sympathetic without sugarcoating his character’s flaws.

“Locke” is a so-so movie. But Hardy is so good he makes you hang in until the end, eager to see where Locke ends up.

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