The concept of Steven Knight’s British thriller Locke should, by all rights, fall flat with its single-minded approach to simply film a man driving from Birmingham to London and not a lot else. But when that man is Tom Hardy, it becomes very much worth a watch. Portraying the eponymous construction worker Ivan Locke, the weight of his performance elevates the simplistic plot further than you could imagine. Locke is a complicated yet loyal individual and when a colossal mistake puts his happiness in jeopardy, he sets forth to do all that he can to right his wrong. This makes for a fascinating character study and Knight’s direction illustrates and illuminates the story spectacularly, maintaining a consistently visually interesting style throughout, despite the limited space.
To centre the entirety of the narrative solely around one character is a brave inspired move, and the complexities of Locke and his troubles hold the film tightly together. His account slowly builds, revealing itself and exposing his flaws gradually, providing a range of intensity, sorrow and unexpected dashes of humour. The script is nearly always delivered through Ivan’s car phone. That’s when he’s not speaking to his late father through his rear-view mirror. His conversations with his wife, children and colleagues flow surprisingly well, providing the structure of the film and developing personalities and relationships that are only seen through one face and his range of expressions.
His passion and dedication towards his work comes through enormously as he gives in-depth meticulous instructions of the detailed processes involved in laying foundations. He was on the cusp of a highly lucrative concrete pour and cement has never sounded more interesting. With the dark and somewhat confined environment of a BMW, Knight and his cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos creatively construct a gripping ambience with taut close-ups and nice transition editing, letting the city lights decorate the screen. The aesthetics are helped along by an atmospheric almost otherworldly score providing a steady rhythm which stops at an abrupt but well judged conclusion.
Hardy is disguised in rather old-fashioned attire of a thick woolly jumper and sports a bushy unkempt beard but his acting talent is far from hidden. As thick and unusual as his jersey is his rich South Wales accent that I could listen to for hours as he tumbles through a series of emotions. We quite literally go on a journey with Ivan Locke, and Hardy makes us empathise with him despite his faults. It’s his most humane performance of his career, and arguably best. His voice acting supporting cast are great at getting a real sense of identity down the line. Olivia Colman is strong as she always is as Bethan, and Andrew Scott is entertaining as Ivan’s downtrodden Irish co-worker Donal who is handed a burden of responsibility in his absence.
Locke is an ambitious, inventive project which could mark the beginning of a dynamic working relationship between Midlands filmmaker Steven and leading man Tom Hardy, with reported television projects in the pipeline. The bar is raised exceptionally high for future works as this is a solid achievement on so many levels. The film assuredly treads the line between family drama and psychological thriller and the art house elements give palpable energy to the inside of the car, culminating in an unnerving but enjoyable ninety minutes. On top of and as well as that, Tom Hardy is on subtle yet spectacular form.