Dir: Steven Knight
Cert: 15 • UK: 85 min • Lionsgate Films • April 18, 2014
Andrew Darley reviews
Tom Hardy’s latest film, Locke, is a character study of a man in the midst of a personal crisis. The British actor, whose career began in 2001 with small supporting roles, has garnered sizeable recognition in the last five years with leading roles in blockbusters including The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Warrior. In comparison, he has considerably scaled it back with this film, giving himself a challenge of a one-man performance.
It follows Ivan Locke’s journey on the M6 from Birmingham to London. As he sets off on his trip, he is stopped by a red light at a traffic crossing. Visibly lost in thought, it’s not until he is beeped by someone that he comes back to the present and drives on. It is obvious that something is on his mind and waiting to unfold. Through the medium of phonecalls, the plot is told by a series of conversations with family, co-workers and a woman revealed early on to be a past fling whom is about to give birth to their child. Gradually, the exchanges offer enough to piece together a picture of his life and where he finds himself on this night.
Tom Hardy gives an absorbing and natural performance. Looking boyishly handsome and bearded, his expressive face and eyes are the agents of the film; exposing his moments of distress, uncertainty and loss of control. Hardy’s character upholds a steely, pragmatic approach to life, as his problem comes to a head. When questioned by his one-night stand whether he loved her, he coolly states that he could not possibly love her since “I don’t know you”. It’s hugely dismissive and matter-of-fact, yet it is soon found that this stark rationality is how he engages with the world and those around him.
In fact, it is not the imminent birth of his lovechild nor having to confess to his wife that causes him his greatest distress. His real dilemma is the construction site we see him leave at the very beginning. The building under his supervision is due to receive its cement the following morning and Ivan must ensure that everything is in place as he travels to attend his child’s birth. He has a persistent desire to make his mark on the world and the building is hugely significant for him. He describes to a colleague that if one thing goes wrong with the cement pour, everything else around it will fall apart – a motif that parallels his own life.
Director and writer, Steven Knight asserts an admirable confidence by framing the film within the confines of a car and establishes an intimate dynamic with the viewer. He creates moments of calm beauty in the everyday action of driving with the serene lights and colourful reflections of the world outside across the car’s windows. The execution of one-actor, one-place may not have been so stylistically achieved since Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried in 2010. On the other hand, his decision places a greater responsibility on the story to carry the film. The ordinariness of the film’s premise provokes an expectation of a thrill or a plot twist.
And this is where the film fails. Regardless of Hardy’s engrossing performance and the merits of the film’s simplicity, there is a resounding sense that the plot holds a missed opportunity. The twist however, as we watch this man’s life unravel in a 90-minute car journey, never arrives and the pockets of tension throughout subsequently feel anti-climatic. The relentless ringing phone is without doubt an effective metaphor for the situation that threatens to overwhelm Locke, but there is no denying that by three quarters of the way into the film it becomes tedious. It is a deserving film with a script that has a certain mystery which commands viewer’s attention (particularly during the conversations Hardy’s character has with himself), but it lacks a certain spark that transforms it from being a well executed idea into something emotionally stirring. Locke travels in the right direction but it does not quite reach its potential destination.