Published on August 22nd, 2014 | by Matt Wolsfeld0
It may not be a film for everyone, but Locke finds Tom Hardy at his best in a meticulous, claustrophobic dramatic thriller from Steven Knight.
Can the sins of the father be rectified by the son? Can the weakness inside that has been suppressed all one’s life be expunged with a single deft blow? When your life has come crashing down around you, is there a moral absolute for your actions? These are the questions that are given to the viewer from the driver’s seat of Ivan Locke’s BMW in Steven Knight’s suspenseful drama Locke.
The premise is simple. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a successful construction foreman on the eve of the most important project of his life when a surprise phone call stemming from Ivan’s past begins to unravel a chain of events that threaten the entirely perfect life he has built up around himself. The execution is the heart and soul of the film: Locke takes place entirely over the course of a single late night car ride, the story unfolding through Ivan’s phone conversations and personal revelations. The camera effectively never leaves the car, save for a few sweeping shots of the highway surrounding Ivan.
The film is held together by Tom Hardy’s riveting performance as the titular character. Hardy brings life to Ivan Locke, a successful family man who hides the scars of his history and past indiscretions behind an uncomfortably stoic gaze. Hardy’s conversational tone gives insight into Locke’s decision-making through the film: he ranges from calm and decisive when speaking to his boss about tomorrow’s project, nurturing when guiding the inexperienced crew member through a job he is ill-prepared for, and repressively pleading when speaking to his wife at home watching over their two sons. Between calls Hardy allows the emotion he has been hiding in his voice to seep through, and each mini-breakdown or manic dialogue with his imagined father in the back seat lends credence to a man trying desperately to find the next practical step to his survival.
Writer and director Steven Knight’s meticulously crafted script is aided by his ability to make full use of the car as a modern set piece. Locke’s BMW feels small with the viewer trapped inside, which builds a sense of claustrophobia that intensifies the film’s plot. Small shots covering the interior of the vehicle also offer a look into Ivan’s situation: a project folder that should have been left at the office, a passenger seat full of soiled tissues being used to stifle an apparent cold Locke has been suffering from, and the captivating bright blue gaze of Ivan’s center console which reveals the goings-on of his phone via Bluetooth. The cinematic pacing of the film is marvelous: tight rearview mirror shots or Bluetooth notices interrupting Locke’s conversations helps keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, while other conversations end softly with a sweeping panorama of the London countryside around Locke, giving a sense of closure to many of the film’s subplots.
Despite its successes, this film will not be for everyone. Though only an 85-minute runtime, some viewers will undoubtedly be bored by the lack of action or movement throughout. Ivan Locke is by all accounts a remarkably ordinary man in somewhat ordinary circumstances; it is through Hardy’s masterful portrayal of this man and Knight’s staging of a single immeasurably important night that turns Locke’s struggle extraordinary.