Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Olivia Colman
Plot: A construction worker (Hardy) jumps into a car, abandoning his job and family, to make a life-changing decision.
Locke boasts a quality few other films have: restraint. Restraint is the one word that kept floating to the forefront of my mind, whenever I was watching this. On paper, Locke sounds endlessly interesting. Knight’s movie features one set-piece, the inside of Ivan Locke’s BMW as he drives from one end of the motorway to the other. Tom Hardy is the only actor we see, the others reduced to voices on the telephone (although they still deliver great character pieces, especially Andrew Scott). The entire movie is focused on Tom Hardy driving in his car. It was the kind of movie I had to see, even if the doubt in my mind made me wait until the DVD was released. However, despite being fascinating on paper, I never expected it to work. Surely the tension would dry up, the spark of originality burning out after twenty minutes of the same three shots, fading in and out of focus. However, Steven Knight avoids every temptation to make Locke anything more than it is, and in doing so, Locke becomes more entertaining and gripping than most movies I have seen in 2014.
The biggest surprise for me was the lack of twists. Reviews mention the life-changing decision Hardy’s Locke makes in hushed tones. I assumed Knight would give us tidbits of information and make us connect the dots right up until the very end, when Locke’s motives were laid out for us. However, fifteen minutes in, that secret is pulled out into the open. That disorientated me for the moment, because I was wondering where the hook for the film now was. However, as I kept watching, captivated by the story and central performance, I realised that Locke didn’t need fancy twists or plot devices to work. The movie plays out in real time, yet it never became a gimmick like it does with the television show, 24. In fact, Locke goes out of its way to be as mundane as possible. While Ivan juggles a major family crisis, he tries to keep the company he just left from falling apart in his absence. This means organising a concrete delivery over the phone. You would be forgiven for assuming that a movie about transporting concrete would be insanely dull, yet Knight’s direction and script is so precise and thrilling, that you are hooked on how the delivery will turn out. It helps that concrete becomes a very clever metaphor for Locke’s predicament (alongside a football game that is occasionally brought up). Again, in showing restraint, Knight impresses us with his talent as a story-teller.
Of course, I wouldn’t be able to write a review about Locke without mentioning Tom Hardy. Despite an excellent script and clever direction, Knight’s work would fall down around him if the central star couldn’t keep us fixated on him. Thankfully, although few were in doubts about it, Tom Hardy becomes the star of the show, with what could his greatest performance yet. Again, restraint is the key word to describe his approach to the character. Ivan Locke is a very practical man, at some moments frustratingly so, as he tries to find a logically way to control his wife’s emotional breakdown. He is a man whose honour and values are respectable, even if few viewers believe he is doing the right thing. At some points, you want to join in with the characters ringing him throughout his journey and try to convince him that he is making a serious error in judgement. Despite having a character that is hard to emphasise with, we never stop loving Ivan. He is a man who lays out what he is going to do, very clearly, from the start of the film, and he never wavers from his own plan. Hardy plays it straight and most other actors would have found it impossible to not coast through the film. You keep waiting for Tom Hardy to give in to the urges that every actor in this kind of character piece has, and start chewing scenery. You are always expecting Tom Hardy to break down and start delivering an emotionally-fuelled monologue that cuts right into the audience’s emotion. Yet Hardy always shows restraint. Therefore, we get a more subtle performance, but one that we haven’t seen anyone do so well for a long time. It is the quiet resignation in his eyes, the exhaustion in his stature. One climatic scene sees him listen to his son on the phone, his face kept still and focused, yet a single tear rolls down his cheek. It is a tremendous performance from the actor and I am sure I will go into more detail, when he gets nominated for an OSCAR next year. And if he doesn’t, I will be posting a very angry article.
Yet despite all of these amazing points, you are always expecting to lose touch with the film. Surely, a movie about a man driving his car will get old at some point in its 85 minute running time. Empire found fault in the scenes where Ivan Locke confronts his dead father, bitterly muttering at the back seat of his car. I didn’t actually mind those moments. It helped that Hardy was delivering these monologues to an empty chair and not an actor, asked to stand in as a flashback. It felt like a logical outburst for a man on the verge of breaking down, but forced to keep it together to help his friends and loved ones get through the night. It also helps iron out some of Ivan Locke’s motives, as he is a man you won’t agree with for a lot of the film. Others might choose to pick holes in the lack of action or the fixed location. However, if you allow yourself to get swept along for the ride and enjoy this movie as a well-told story, then you will recognise it as a clever, hard-hitting drama that never takes the easy way out.
Final Verdict: Locke dodges every pitfall you expect it to make and thanks to keen direction from Knight and mesmerising acting from Hardy, it becomes OSCAR material for 2015.