Locke – Review


Locke, Stock and Tom Hardy’s Moral Dilemma

Locke shouldn’t work. The movie plays out in a single location and there is no life-or-death struggle. Nobody’s been buried alive or is confined to a phone booth. It’s a relatively simple tale about a man having a bad night.

Essentially it is an 86-minute film told in real time involving a man driving to London. The setting is the car, and the only actor that appears on screen is the driver. This man is not a man of importance. Yet, he maintains a sense of order, having done right most of his life, ensuring stability at home and at work. However, in an inebriated moment he did something foolish months ago and tonight he finds himself at a crossroads.

Locke innately hooks you the moment the driver makes a choice to go right instead of going left. It also helps that that driver is Tom Hardy, who gives a tremendous performance that is subtle but commanding enough to hold most viewers attention. It’s a far cry from his boisterous roles as the villainous mercenary Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, where his voice was unintelligible some of the time, or as war vet/mixed marital artist Tommy in Warrior. The way he articulates his emotions is flawlessly done. Part of this is Steven Knight’s direction and his ability to craft a downward spiral of an emotional breakdown. The fact that we have no clear idea of what Hardy’s character does for a living for nearly a fourth of the film’s running time also helps to create an aura of suspense. The opening panning shot of a construction site offers suggestions, as does Hardy’s clothes, but the type of automobile he drives infers he’s a man of means.

Combating a cold, Locke leaves the construction site with a mental to-do list of important phone calls to make. As he drives in the night, a speeding silhouette among other silhouettes on the highway, lights dancing along the car’s frame, Locke spends the better part of his trip talking to individuals on his mobile. It’s not idle chitchat or friendly hello-how-are-you-doing calls. Each call is an important piece involving his future. We have Gareth (voiced by Ben Daniels) as the construction go-between who is dumbfounded that Locke would leave for London the evening before the largest concrete pour in European history. Donal (Andrew Scott) is Locke’s closest subordinate who he asks to take lead. Bethan (Olivia Colman) is a one-night stand who is about to give birth to Locke’s baby. When he first learned that this woman who he had a fling with one night would be going through with having the child Locke made a promise that he would be there for the birth. He does not love her, though. He loves Katrina (Ruth Wilson), his wife and mother of two young boys.

Steven Knight (the writer of Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) is well versed in character studies involving protagonists lacking scruples. Locke is self-assured of the type of man he doesn’t want to become but admitting this to others is a moot point. Instead, Knight redirects attention away from Hardy to focus his shot in the rearview mirror as Locke engages in one-sided conversation with the person who had a supporting role for this turbulent night.

Hardy’s vocal inflection is key to casting truth on his character but more so it is facial expressions that tell the story. Tired eyes and a right hand to the crease of the brow provide a sense of realism, allowing Locke’s sheath of emotional armor to deteriorate. A stand-up guy who has made one terrible mistake with a lonely woman he barely knows, Locke is willing to suffer the cost of a damaged reputation, even if it means losing his security (both domestic and professional), as long as he can keep his character intact.

Fielding Bethan’s hysterical calls from the hospital while trying to make sure everything is locked down for the concrete pour the following morning is an impressive juggling act that is made a little easier with Bluetooth technology. That way his hands are close to the steering column and his cell phone’s rectangular shape isn’t casting a shadow down his face, blocking any expression.

The car ride is an odyssey and a turning point for Ivan Locke. The choices he makes realigns priorities and upholding a moral obligation leaves him a man of new beginnings. This realization is only inferred as the real-time drama ends abruptly, leaving the viewer to mull over the last eighty or so minutes in which Tom Hardy goes from a man of stability to losing everything.

Regardless of the basic outline above, Locke is a strong film anchored by an incredible display of acting in a confined space. Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke as man that most can identify. The choices he faces are not highly improbable; they are grounded in reality. No matter which way he goes he loses. The question of what is better to keep, reputation or character, provides a moral quandary for the viewer and allows for a healthy debate afterwards.

Writer/Director: Steven Knight
Notable Cast: Tom Hardy