Backseat Driver


By Mountain Shadow Director, John Bennison

Note: Mountain Shadow presents this film at our two screenings in July, 2014
Writer Director, Stephen Knight
Rated R – 85 minutes – from Great Britain

When critics acclaimed Stephen Knight’s film as “suspenseful” and “riveting,” I was curious how the writer/director could have pulled it off. The viewer rides alongside a single character in his BMW on an 85-minute trip down the M-1 to London and an uncertain future.  How could anyone spend nearly an hour and a half watching and listening to a guy talk on a cell phone in a car? 

Answer: It’s yet another road trip movie, but of quite another sort.

Played by the very capable actor, Tom Hardy, Ivan Locke is a construction foreman and indispensable part of an impending project, when he suddenly leaves work one night, jumps in his car and leaves everything behind; including his job, home, wife and children. While he’s in the driver’s seat on what clearly turns out to be anything but a joy ride, he himself will be driven by something far more important to him than everything else he’s willing to risk losing or giving up.

Locke is a man who displays all the qualities you want in a manager of anything; whether it be a construction project, or life in general. He is the expert when it comes to pouring concrete foundations the right way. Otherwise, everything you build could come tumbling down, and you’re left knee-deep a heap of rubble (think metaphor).  He’s calm and deliberate in the face of chaos. He’s temperate to a fault, principled, and singularly goal-oriented. He understands how human beings think, act, and react.  He stays one step ahead of everyone else; while accepting the unpredictable limitations of mixing it up in traffic and the reality of speed limits.  His standard response to every anticipated reaction from everyone else is, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

So the moment he jumps in his car, starts the engine and pulls away from the job site, he does what any skilled and experienced manager does. He gets on his mobile cell phone and begins talking to everyone in his personal universe, one after the other.  He’s like the conductor of an orchestra comprised of amateur musicians who are scrambling to get the pages of sheet music to a dissonant tune in proper order.

While driving in the opposite direction late at night, he’s still coordinating the multiple, crucial details of the huge concrete pour that’ll take place when the sun comes up the next morning. Meanwhile, he’s checking in with home, the wife and kids.  And he’s talking to another semi-hysterical and fragile human being he hardly knows; but with whom he is inextricably entangled and committed. And ultimately, he knows that in the time it will take him to drive from point ‘A’ to point ‘B,’ his world as he knows it will be turned upside down.

One might initially consider this a film that could not have been made until the introduction of the mobile cell phone, automated speed dialing, and the hands-free Bluetooth speaker set.  But, in fact, the messiness of modern life carries with it the most ordinary and pedestrian problems of the human condition that just seems to have been a part of the typical baggage with which we have been unable to rid ourselves since each one of us embarked on our own little journeys.

It is the imaginary figure in the back seat that drives everything in this one man’s life, along with the most difficult, fateful choices he makes.

Because even if Ivan Locke lost cell phone coverage somewhere en route in the course of this brief road trip we take with him, there is still the invisible character in the back seat he cannot help but notice in his rear view mirror; and with which we see him forced to contend. In fact, it is the imaginary figure in the back seat that drives everything in this one man’s life, along with the most difficult, fateful choices he makes.

The story ends for the viewer just a few miles short of Ivan’s destination, but not before his costly objective is achieved.  The viewer is left to imagine what those ultimate costs will be, and ask ourselves – if it were you or me -- would it all be worth it?