Your whole life can fall apart in one night. Such is the predicament of Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a respected Birmingham concrete foreman, who finds his personal and professional lives colliding at the most inconvenient of times. Over the course of night’s drive to London, he must wrestle with his woes and try to make the best of them, armed only with his phone (connected to his car’s Bluetooth device).
Noted screenwriter Steven Knight first turned his hand to directing with the disappointing Jason Statham film Hummingbird (aka Redemption) last year. It’s surprising to see him swiftly following it up with an experimental, minimalist character drama like this; the ploy being that the film takes place almost entirely within Locke’s car.
As I seem to be one of the few people who actually saw the Paul Walker starring South African film Vehicle 19 last year, I have to mention that it possessed almost the exact same filming device as Locke, but was far less effective. While Vehicle 19 limited itself by never allowing the camera to leave the car, it had characters come to and fro and tried to make an action movie out of itself. Locke sticks firm with its title character, but employs shots all around the vehicle, including a few strangely hypnotic ones of the dark road ahead. It keeps its focus on drama and doesn’t come anywhere near a car chase scene. And of course it helps that it’s got an actor like Hardy driving the film (quite literally).
I do wonder if some actors actively pursue solo roles like this to challenge themselves; Hardy’s the only one we see and he’s in frame for probably about 95% of the film. Thankfully he’s more than up to the task, holding the screen as the calm, measured Locke is pushed further and further into adversity, often in extreme close ups. He’s an all-too human character, he’s made a mistake and is trying to deal with it the best way he can, but nothing’s going to be easy for him. Hardy’s been turning in memorable performances in bigger movies like Inception, Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises over the last few years but this is the best showcase for his acting talents since Bronson. He even adopts a Welsh accent for no discernable reason but pulls it off. Locke never once leaves you wishing that it would cut away to the other side of one of the many conversations he has.
It helps that he’s got a surprisingly excellent supporting cast to back him up in vocal-only performances. Taken from a few top British TV dramas (which could assist in putting a mental face to the voice), Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) and Ruth Wilson (Luther) convey the exact right amount of emotion as the woman he has to go see and the wife who was expecting him home respectively. Many of the best exchanges occur with Andrew Scott (Sherlock) as his colleague who’s now faced with more responsibility than he can handle over the following day’s big job. You really do learn quite a lot about pouring concrete over the course of this film but it’s never a drag. The only stages that ring false are the few times Locke’s left alone and starts having imaginary talks with his absent, now deceased father. The nature of their relationship was sufficiently conveyed by his other exchanges anyway.
Locke could easily be dismissed as ‘a Welshman talking about concrete in a car for 90 minutes’, but finely complemented by the poised work of his cinematographer (Haris Zambarloukos), editor (Justine Wright) and composer (Dickon Hinchliffe), Steven Knight’s crafted a gripping film that always engages, justifies it’s experimental approach, and contains enough dramatic weight to never feel like a case of ‘style over substance’.