Leaving Stock and both Smoking Barrels behind, Locke finally gets his own solo outing…
Family man and construction manager Ivan Locke leaves nothing to chance. Every detail of his home life and work are meticulously plotted so that nothing can go wrong. On the eve of the most important day of his concrete-pouring career, however, Locke is stuck driving down the M1 to London when a secret from his past comes to fruition and threatens to unravel his entire life.
First and foremost, it should be said that Locke is quite a unique film in the way that it was shot and the way that it is structured. Tom Hardy, as Locke, is the only actor to appear on-screen. His co-stars are mere voices as he makes and receives a series of phone calls throughout the drive. In addition, other than a very brief moment at the very beginning, the entire movie takes place inside of the car, almost in real-time. Films with a single person and a single setting have been done before, but what sets Locke apart is that this is not a thriller in the traditional sense and it’s not propelled by any particular threat towards the main character. There is no gun pointed at his head if he makes a wrong turn, there’s no bomb waiting to be detonated, and no intense car action. The stakes here are purely emotional.
Fortunately for us, Locke more than overcomes the obstacle of trying to keep our interest while watching a man drive and talk. Sure, early in the film, it’s a bit hard to be fully engaged as we’re not yet aware of where he’s headed and why he’s headed there. You may instantly wonder if the film will end up being more about the experiment and novelty of it all, rather than the story. But, that concern is quickly dashed moments in. As information is meted out to us, we become more and more engrossed, and it doesn’t take long at all for you to be invested in how this night is going to turn out.
The less you know about what actual conflicts he is facing, the better. But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what they are. As the calls comes in, you start to learn that they are rarely going to carry good news, and the tension builds steadily with each one. The entire night is peppered with a series of crises, and Locke has nothing but his wits and fastidiousness to try to avert each one.
Writer/director Steven Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos are surprisingly successful at keeping things interesting visually. Utilizing multiple angles within the car, including mirror reflections, it adds crucial scope to the proceedings. Shots of a beautiful nighttime cityscape, both from within and outside of the car, break up the requisite talking head nature. Often, we see shots of Hardy, blended with views of the outside traffic he is navigating that don’t necessarily serve a purpose to the plot, but give us something arresting to look at and go a long way towards seemingly expanding the setting.
Another fun trick that Knight has at his disposal is the on-screen dashboard, linked to Locke’s Bluetooth. Quite frankly, a movie like this would have a tough time being made pre-Bluetooth, as I would imagine we would tire quickly of watching a man drive while holding a phone to his ear. But, in this case, Knight cleverly uses the screen as a sort of caption for each incoming and outgoing call. Locke primarily speaks to about five or six different people, each with their own escalating crisis, multiple times throughout the night. As their respective name pops up on the caller ID, our mind already begins to formulate the bad news that they will soon share, as we’ve just hung up with the last one. Alternatively, on occasion, we do not get to see the name before Locke answers, adding even more tension as we anticipate who it will be.
As Locke, Tom Hardy is absolutely mesmerizing. More so than most actors, Hardy is able to disappear completely in every role that he takes on. You will have a hard time believing that this is the same man who played Bane or Bronson or any previous role. He adopts a Welsh accent and choppy vocal timbre that plays well into the meticulous, calm nature of his character. He’s a man seeking redemption, or at least his own idea of redemption, for his past transgressions and even the sins of his father. Daddy issues abound as he feels he has something to prove to the father that is no longer there, and, from the impression that we get, never particularly there at all. The choice to have Locke speak into the rearview mirror, focused on a backseat headrest as a representation of his father is an odd one (we keep waiting for something to materialize in relation to its significance, but it never does), but it makes sense, from a filmmaking standpoint, to create a focal point. None of that matters, though, as Hardy is able to make us forget 100% that he shares the screen with no one. As some of the voices on the other end of the line, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, and Andrew Scott (adding a welcome thread of humor) are particularly strong, as are the rest, but this is primarily Hardy’s show and he handles it subtly and beautifully.
JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS:
A film about a man driving and talking on the phone while facing no actual physical threat of danger doesn’t sound as if it should be particularly tense or engrossing, but thanks to tight direction, a simple but effective script, and an amazing lead performance, it absolutely is. There is, perhaps, a bit of a lack of satisfaction at the level of closure we get at the end, but this one is all about the journey. Heck, it even manages to make talking about the results of pouring concrete pretty exhilarating. In real-time, it may only be a 90 minute car trip, but, for Ivan Locke, it’s the longest ride of his life.
Review by Lead Film Critic/Writer, Jason Howard