Ivan Locke lives an enviable life: happily married with two kids, he is also a successful and reliable construction engineer, the best in the business, an expert on all matters related to concrete. But as he steps into his BMW SUV one night after work, Locke decides to throw his entire life out of the window and face the consequences of an irresponsible act committed some months ago. And so, as he drives to London in one of Britain’s main highways, his life begins to unravel in a series of telephone calls from his car.
Shot twice per night over a period of five days, edited to create a sense that the film is taking place in real time and confined to one spot, “Locke” is much more than a narrative stunt, much more than theatre on a four-wheel drive. It is the portrait of a hyper-connected life slowly unraveling, of a man who is metaphorically juggling two many balls in the air.
From his car Locke (Tom Hardy) delivers, via his Bluetooth connected phone, hands tightly clenching the steering wheel, the bad news to his wife and kids that he won’t be joining them for dinner that evening, even though she’s made his favorite sausages and a big match is on tonight. He also breaks the news that he cheated on her one night those many months ago. On a separate call, Locks tells his boss Gareth (Ben Daniels) that he won’t be able to supervise what has been labeled the “biggest concrete pour in England” the following night. But not to worry, he’ll make sure it happens. Of course, the Chicago company in charge of the project is not happy with Locke. Ignoring Gareth’s orders, Locke instructs his underling Donal (Andrew Scott, better known as Moriarty in BBC’s “Sherlock”), the do’s and don’ts of this massive enterprise. And then there are those hysterical calls from a woman named Bethan (Olivia Colman); to say more would spoil the film.
The calls grow in number and intensity, one interrupting the other, threatening to drive Locke over the edge. And one wonders how close to the edge he may be as Locke, looking through the rearview mirror at the empty backseat, addresses his now defunct father. Traffic and road lights are just a blur as he drives to his destination, the flashing police lights passing by a constant reminder that so many distractions could lead to tragedy. As we watch Locke tackle one call after another, as we watch him blow his nose and down one cup of Nyquil after another, we cannot help but think that sooner or later that outside world will barge into this four-wheel cocoon he has built for himself.
Written and directed by Steven Knight (who penned the scripts for “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Eastern Promises”), “Locke” is, in its essence, a one-man show, although we shouldn’t overlook the supporting cast. Their phone calls may have been piped in from a conference room into the car in real time, but Colman, Scott and company faced a task as difficult as Hardy’s. Like Locke, we are left in the rather delicate position of reacting not to what these voices say but how they say it. And Hardy, who had already blown me away with his his performance as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” as well as his supporting turns in such films as “Inception” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” rises to the challenge, delivering one of the best performances of the year.
Great Britain’s most chameleonic actor disguises his voice with a Welsh accent, using it to convey patience and irritation, condescension and defiance, understanding and frustration. His voice is a weapon, one he deploys fully as he tries to retain control of whatever’s thrown at him. Hardy even uses the cold he was suffering from at the time of the shoot as another tool to fully delineate his character and the precarious situation he finds himself in. He takes full advantage of the limitations imposed by Knight to create a well-rounded, complex and riveting character.
But to focus solely on Hardy’s performance would be unfair to Knight’s craftsmanship and that of his cinematographer Haris Zambaloukos, editor Justine Wright and their team. Knight has seamlessly woven those ten shoots into a single, coherent narrative that demands and captures your attention without resorting to Hollywood hijinks. “Locke” allows you to live in the character’s moment while weighing the choices he faces phone call after phone call. The film may reach a logical but underwhelming conclusion but the trip is most definitely worth it.