Tom Hardy is the sole star of this captivating drama from writer-director Steven Knight as his character endures a number of life-changing events on a motorway journey to London.
Locke isn’t a film that features much in the way of scenery. Save for a brief introductory sequence, the 90-minute running time is spent solely within the car of the eponymous Ivan Locke, although somehow the arrangement never becomes claustrophobic. The camera sometimes focuses on the dashboard, occasionally on the back seat, and on special occasions the viewer is treated to a view of the outside of the vehicle, seeing it amongst the surrounding motorway traffic. But, predictably, the largest chunk of screen time is devoted to the face of the driving Locke, played by Tom Hardy.
In such situations a film is often referred to as a ‘vehicle’ for a famous actor’s performance (pun would’ve been intended if we’d thought of it); it’s a label that usually indicates a film of modest quality that’s sole purpose is to elevate the profile of the narcissistic performer in question. In the case of Locke there’s no point denying that Hardy dominates proceedings, since he’s is the only actor to physically appear in the film, but the focus on events outside the camera frame, cleverly observed from inside it, means it would be unfair to class this picture as a Hardy vehicle.
A more appropriate term that springs to mind is ‘high-concept’ (pretentious as it might sound). The breadth of themes covered in this film is astounding, with Locke’s mission calling upon one man in his car to simultaneously save his marriage, talk his frantic mistress through childbirth, manage the pouring of cement in a multi-million dollar skyscraper construction and battle his own demons in phantom conversations with his deceased father. All of this is conducted via a single mobile phone over the course of a one-and-a-half hour motorway journey. It’s exhaustive, compulsive viewing.
The one sticking point in Hardy’s formidable performance comes in the form of a distracting Welsh accent that initially jars with the face on screen, but within minutes you’ll believe he was born and bred in the valleys. Whether it’s a hardened British criminal (Bronson), a superhero villain (The Dark Knight Rises) or a prohibition-era beer baron (Lawless), this actor inhabits his roles with complete conviction, and Locke is fortunately no exception. You’ll leave the theatre truly believing that Hardy is not only an experienced foreman, but a master of the blue-chip skyscraper concrete pour. It’s surely not a role that’s taught at many drama schools, and it’s all the more impressive for it.
A quick dip into film history shows that the niche genre of ‘one location’ films is not as new as you might think. Alfred Hitchcock toyed with the concept in the 1940s and 50s with Lifeboat, Rope and Dial M for Murder before finally producing his masterpiece Rear Window. Having achieved perfection, he promptly abandoned the concept completely in a manner only Hitchcock would have the right to do. The closest modern example is probably Buried, in which Ryan Reynolds wakes up in a coffin with a mobile phone and the lifespan of the accompanying battery to save his skin. 12 Angry Men is worth a mention too, a tense depiction of the real time deliberations of a murder trial jury.
Shooting the supporting roles for Locke must have been akin to working on an animated film (though probably without the accompanying financial rewards), with none of the remaining cast making a physical appearance. The key supporting roles are played by Ruth Wilson as Ivan’s betrayed wife, Olivia Colman as mistress Bethan, Andrew Scott as second-in-command on the concrete pour, and Ben Daniels as boss Gareth. The performances of this invisible ensemble are mainly excellent, with only Daniels sounding a few false notes.
The movie’s sole disappointment comes when it all ends rather abruptly after 90 minutes. That a film which can be boiled down to a series of phone calls over an hour-and-a-half can form such compulsive viewing is quite an achievement.