Given the previous screenplays by writer/director Steven Knight, there’s a sinister pall that hangs over his latest movie, as if disaster could strike at any moment. Dark and moody, with a truly inventive structure that hangs on Tom Hardy’s masterful performance, Locke is an intimate and wonderfully layered film that pushes the boundaries of cinematic storytelling.
The entire action plays out in something like real time, on a nighttime drive from Birmingham to London. Ivan Locke (Hardy) is our only on-screen character, spending his time on the phone with various people as his life falls apart over the ninety-minute trip. He is a construction foreman, and an extraordinarily capable and meticulous one at that. Or at least he was; he’s left the work-site the night before he was supposed to supervise the biggest concrete pour in Europe, outside of military or nuclear applications, and when the bosses in Chicago find out he’s sure to be fired.
Locke has left the site because he’s about to become a father. A woman he’d had a one-night-stand with is about to give birth in London. It’s a couple months ahead of schedule, which is why he hasn’t yet told his wife. When she hears that he’s not only slept with another woman but fathered a child, she’s surely not going to be happy.
So why does he upend both his work and home lives for a woman even he says he barely knows and has no feelings for? Because, like his namesake John, Ivan Locke believes that there are right and wrong actions, and that they can be empirically determined. His morality is systematic and precise, and it can be carefully plotted out just like the checklists he uses for massive concrete pours.
He knows that his father abandoned him, and that was wrong. His father’s sloppy, aimless life is the defining feature of his own, and he carries the anger behind him to this day. So it would be wrong for him to abandon his own child the way his father abandoned him, even if that means sacrificing the rest.
Staying in the car with Locke for an hour and a half is a slow, claustrophobic experience. We hear about what’s going on in the rest of the world, but all filtered through a single telephone line. For all his expertise, Locke is nearly powerless to fix anything the way he normally would. And Hardy plays this one-man-show expertly, in the performance of his career, peeling back the layers of this character for us to watch.
Knight deftly weaves all these threads together as the road unspools behind Locke’s car. The night-driving footage is gorgeous, and the sound of other cars allows him a wonderful tool to ratchet up the tension at just the right moment. But at the same time a long-distance night-drive is a marvelously relaxing thing. The steady hum of the road is soothing, and knowing that a decision has been made works wonders to clear the mind. Ivan Locke will have to pick up the pieces later, but in this moment all he has to do is keep driving.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.