Review by: Bill Graham
There’s a richness in Locke that is singularly drawn out by the lone performer on the screen, Tom Hardy. What starts as an ordinary night is driven to the brink. Ivan Locke is an exacting man. He’s meticulous about what he does. Laying the foundations of skyscrapers is serious business. The tiniest flaw can mean failure in the concrete, which leads to cracks and a compromise of the entire structure. He’s respected and heralded by his coworkers for excelling at his single-minded drive to make sure nothing is wrong with the foundation. But less than 12 hours before the biggest pour of his career he leaves.
On the road, he provides us with an intense and gripping experience as he struggles to hold his life together. Using the Bluetooth connection on his BMW, he has a mental checklist of all the people he has to call and talk down from going berserk. But it’s not just his coworkers that are livid. Slowly we realize what has driven Ivan to unexpectedly leave and it has consequences for his life at home as well. Just as he has built strong foundations with his work, he has done the same with his family. His two sons are his biggest fans. When he has to cancel his plans with them to watch an important futbol match on the television, they show remorse but understanding. He has something extremely urgent he has to take care of.
To paint the picture writer/director Steven Knight uses a myriad of camera angles and sequences of double negatives to layer Hardy’s visage ontop of scenes of the highway. We are on board for a journey with Ivan and while the initial hook sustains it nearly loses steam before the pounding and thrilling finale. Running a spare 85 minutes, the film is just long enough to keep from running empty. There is a frustrating mystery to the film that, upon reflection, makes sense but is no less taxing while observing. You see, Locke has a very good reason for up and leaving his plans for that night and the morning after but doesn’t reveal them until about half way through. For much of the film he talks in vagaries about the subject.
Yet I have to give Knight credit for his decisions. We learn about Ivan, his exacting nature, and his determination to keep things together over time and that affects what is revealed. He’s almost dispassionate as he soothingly talks to the people on the other line. Yet as soon as the phone call ends we see the toll it’s taking on him. Hardy shows a mastery of subtleties and even when he starts to ramble to himself there wasn’t a hint of laughter from the audience.
They play angles at just the right time in the film that we are so entrenched we roll with it. And, as much as Hardy is the one that heaps of praise will be given, I also have to mention those on the other line. Never shown, they often carry much of the emotional weight. It’s a taxing duty, yelling, crying, screaming, and showing general frustration with Hardy’s Locke as he coos to them. “Everything is going to be fine.” He repeatedly tells them this mantra. He will fix everything. And we start to believe him. Hardy’s charisma and charm are on full display and I was amazed by just how much you can get done over the phone. There’s rarely a point where you stop to ponder the reality of it and it’s a remarkable feat.
Locke proves that a powerful character study can be achieved anywhere. A single passenger on an unending highway drive at legal limits isn’t the typical setting for a dramatic film, but Knight and his cohorts pull it off. The intricacies of pouring a foundation are revealed and it helps give Hardy something to really sink his teeth into. He appears to be at absolute control with something like concrete but people are less predictable. There are no C6 mixes of people, and you can’t readily check what kind of backbone they have until something dramatic arrives. Ivan has taken pains to become an expert at something solid while his life slowly erodes around him. Uniquely brilliant, Locke is a ride that draws you in and washes away the world around you.
*Screened at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival*