With Tom Hardy single-handedly driving the film and Steven Knight’s dirty, pretty script at the wheel, Locke is an elegant one-hander of life in the fast lane.
Drive by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
With its formalistic premise of Tom Hardy alone in a car driving from Birmingham to London, Steven Knight’s Locke joins a long line of one-handers from JC Chandor’s old-man-and-the-sea All Is Lost and Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning cosmic roller-coaster Gravity to Julian Pölsler’s metaphorical The Wall. But taking place in real-time (kind of) and set almost entirely inside a car, Locke rides on Tom Hardy’s performance as sweet-talking Welsh structural engineer Ivan Locke, navigating three crises by speaker-phone as he drives down the M40. Daringly, it obeys its own rules (one man in a car) and yet interspersed with a variety of telephone conversations, Locke keeps our engagement ticking over, as one cool, calm and collected driver watches his life fall apart, separated from the fall-out by the safe cocoon of his four-wheel-drive.
Hours before the foundations are to be laid for a monumental skyscraper and the world’s biggest single concrete pour early the next morning, construction manager Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) leaves the building site in his car. Deciding between turning left or right, instead of going home Ivan heads to the motorway to drive hundreds of miles to Bethan (Olivia Colman), a woman he had a passionless affair with months ago, now in labour with his child. It’s a secret he never quite got round to telling his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) until now, as he alternates between calls home, where his sons are settling in for a big match on TV, and directing his slightly tipsy foreman Donal (Andrew Scott) to check the pile foundations, while avoiding calls from his boss Gareth (Ben Daniels). Juggling conversations, Ivan tries desperately to fulfil his responsibilities on all sides and bring each crisis to a successful resolution, but as he reaches his final destination, he realises there’s no longer any turning back.
With Locke, Steven Knight, the Oscar-nominated screenplay writer of Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises and director of Redemption (otherwise known as Jason Statham vehicle Hummingbird), seems to have left London’s mean streets behind. But there’s still a rough kind of machismo, as Tom Hardy’s garrulous Welshman oversees, entreats and coerces everyone he talks to – all in impossibly honeyed tones. He’s the cinematic hero par excellence – the man who will have it all. And as the three threads of his breaking home, pressing work and unintended fling battle for Locke’s attention – he masters this jukebox of emotions with virile control. The phone becomes his life-line, offering him the hope that he might just manage to make it through unscathed, as well as a noose, demanding a dextrous performance where one wrong word could go and ruin everything. The stakes are high, but with a great performance from Tom Hardy as well as a pitch-perfect script and exciting visuals, Locke is certainly an enjoyable piece of high-concept cinema.
The film is centred around a decision between turning left or right, staging a moral trap in which a man trying to do the right thing can’t help but hurt himself and the ones he loves. But while we can feel pity for Locke as he turns his world upside down trying to assume his (conflicting) responsibilities, he’s depicted rather oddly as a blamelessly victim – his fling nothing more than an excess of empathy, of the faithful husband entrapped by a sad, pathetic woman. And yet, as he hallucinates, imagining his father sitting on the back seat, and desperately clings to his self-image as the son that slew off generations of shit and straightened out the family name, there’s an irrepressible awareness that he’s perhaps not quite as innocent as he’d like to believe. Like the concrete he leaves behind him, his testament isn’t so much gleaming virtue as a dark, stony footprint – unable to reconcile his ambitious desires to leave something behind with his everyday responsibilities as a husband and father.
With its formal structure and dialogue-dependent narrative, Locke struggles to find a resolution to its intricately woven stories – the poetic balance of the final scene as Locke stops the car – suddenly aware that he’s left with nothing; no job, no family, only a new life with an unwanted one-night-stand – undermined by the overwhelming nihilism of the final reel. He may have brought a new life into the world, another footprint that he clings desperately to, but only by undoing all the other achievements in his life. He’s been true to himself, only it’s a rather hollow victory. But tightly constructed out of telephone dialogues racing hot on each other’s heels and handsome imagery of neon reflections and fading street lamps, Steven Knight’s Locke is a rewarding and captivating piece of minimalist filmmaking – driven by a twin-engine of story and performance with a fuel-injection of glittering visuals.
Locke is released on 18th April 2014 in the UK