Locke is the sort of film that was always in danger of seeming gimmicky. It is after all an entire movie where the only visuals are a single man, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), in a car driving along a motorway, with the ‘action’ playing out in real-time.
However thanks to a truly impressive performance from Hardy and the strong hold of writer/director Steven Knight it’s surprisingly gripping, smart and entertaining.
Ivan Locke is a family man with an important job in construction. However as he steps into his car he knows all that is in jeopardy. He sets off to travel from Birmingham to London, where a woman he had a drunken one-night-stand with is due to give birth. Over the course of an hour and a half he makes and receives a series of phone calls, including trying to sooth the mother of his new child, admit to his wife the mistake he made nine months before and also deal with the fact he should be preparing for one of the most important days of his working life, and the fact he’s going to London instead is likely to get him fired.
With the whole film resting on Hardy, the temptation must have been to make Ivan a rather histrionic character, but the film smartly reins him in, so that he’s always very controlled and determined. As his life collapses around him, he maintains a calm that you know has to break at some point, so that when it does, even in relatively small way,s it’s all the more powerful. Initially Ivan flits on the edge of coming across as an asshole – he is after all the maker of his own misfortune and his journey doesn’t just affect him – but it soon becomes clear that he’s trying to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t always do it the right way.
It undoubtedly helps that while it’s only Hardy on-screen, Knight enlisted some impressive talent to interact with him on the phone. And they really did interact, as the film was essentially shot like a play, with Hardy in a modified car, while the likes of Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott did their parts in a hotel while talking to Tom on the phone. This process was repeatedly nightly for the course of a week to create the footage that was eventually turned into Locke.
The film manages to find a surprising amount of tension is its apparently simple set-up, as Locke’s life implodes but his calm demeanour has him constantly trying to keep things on some sort of track. He’s not an intrinsically bad man, and he wants to do the right thing – in this case to be there for the birth of a child that didn’t ask to born into the mess surrounding it – even if that means he could be destroying everything he’s built up to that point.
With a smart handling of its themes – not least the idea of a man setting off down a road where the destination he wants to get to isn’t where he might end up – it really is a very good film. Admittedly those who demand more action from their films than a man sitting in a car dealing with grown-up problems may find it rather dull, but those prepared to engage will discover a movie that could have been a gimmick but has ended up a rare treat.
Overall Verdict: An impressive Tom Hardy anchors a film that offers far more tension and interest than you’d ever expect from what is just a man in a car for 85 minutes.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac