Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Steven Knight
Stars: Tom Hardy, voices of Olivia Colman, Ben Daniels, Andrew Scott, Ruth Wilson, Tom Halland.
It takes a compelling solo presence on screen to hold the audiences attention for the duration of a film. Recently Robert Redford did just that in the engaging drama All Is Lost, and before that Ryan Reynolds similarly held us in suspense as a man buried alive in the 2010 thriller Buried. And now it is the turn of Tom Hardy (Bronson, The Dark Knight Rises, etc) who is charged with the task of holding us enthralled on screen in the minimalist drama Locke.
Hardy usually has a strong physical presence on screen as anyone who witnessed his intense performance in the brutal and physically punishing Bronson can attest, but here he is a little constrained by the demands of a role that sees him remain behind the wheel of a car for 90 tense minutes. He plays Ivan Locke, a construction engineer who walks off an important job one evening to attend to some personal business and atone for a past mistake that seems about to cost him everything he holds dear. He is going to attend the birth of his child, the result of a one night stand during a conference seven months earlier.
As he drives along the motorway he agonises over his decision. He makes and receives a number of phone calls, trying to juggle a number of things and hold things together while his job, his marriage, his family and his life are falling apart. The film is heavily dialogue driven, but the conversations are both intimate and powerful. Locke unfolds in real time, and is fairly claustrophobic as the character of Locke doesn’t leave the car. Not quite as action packed as the classic Duel, but Locke is a powerful character study, and is still tense stuff as our hero runs a gamut of emotions during the road journey. Hardy manages to elicit a reluctant measure of sympathy for his character even though his actions may be monstrously cruel.
Locke is the second feature film directed by writer Steven Knight (best known for writing gritty thrillers such as Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things, etc), and he does a superb job with the seemingly straightforward and deceptively simple material. The terse and economical script explores themes of masculinity, responsibility, guilt and redemption. Locke is also a marked contrast to Cosmopolis, another script from Knight which featured another desperate man driving around in a car, although there the character left the car occasionally and there was a lot more physical action and interaction with other characters.
Hardy is charismatic as the beleaguered Locke, and his performance alternates between calmness through to bitterness, regret, anger, frustration and determination. There is also a coldness and detachment to his character. But he carries the movie on his shoulders with assurance. The succession of revelations and secrets that emerge hold the audience spellbound. However his Welsh accent is a little thick at times, and some of the dialogue is almost impenetrable.
And while Hardy is on screen the whole time, we hear voices on the radio broadcasting a football match, and there are a number of other voices on the phone. Olivia Colman (The Iron Lady, Cuban Fury, etc) brings a sense of palpable anxiety and fear to her role as Bethan, the mother about to give birth and awaiting his arrival at the hospital. Tom Holland (from The Impossible, etc) voices one of Ivan’s sons who is unsure of what is happening to his family. Ben Daniels (from Law & Order: UK, etc) is Donal, Locke’s hard-nosed boss who threatens and cajoles in equal measure trying to persuade him to turn around and finish off the job. Andrew Scott (from tv’s Sherlock, etc) voices Gareth, the foreman who is left to arrange all the necessary details to ensure that the concreting job proceeds smoothly. Ruth Wilson (Saving Mr Banks, etc) also register strongly as Katrina, Locke’s embittered wife, struggling to understand his impulsive decision. Only Locke’s imaginary conversations with his deceased father seem to hit a false note.
Haris Zembarloukos’s cinematography is great, using some visual flourishes to enhance the mood and make the bland motorway seem exciting. He uses reflecting surfaces, such as rain-spattered windscreens and passing headlights, to add to the intensity of the drama. The film was shot over the course of eight nights, with Knight and Zembarloukos shooting the action in long takes.
A great technical achievement and an intimate portrait of a man facing the consequences of a terrible decision, Locke manages to hold our attention for most of the short duration. Dickson Hinchliffe’s music score adds to the atmosphere. Compelling and hypnotic stuff, although it may not appeal to everybody.