By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, and Ben Daniels.
Well, he’s finally done it. For years, I have been told of Tom Hardy’s talent and charisma as an actor. Yet I have always felt like I was on the outside looking in on those discussions. Sure he’s got a presence. But I at no time saw the man’s charisma and acting ability as being anything other than sub-par. Even as films like Bronson and Warrior helped his stock rise, I just never saw him as being anything other than a never higher than second tier to a higher talent actor. With Locke, his first role since 2012’s Dark Knight Rises (where his face was hidden by a mask and his voice was replaced by an apparent Jack in the Box drive-thru employee), I have finally been proven wrong. A one man thriller, Locke’s strength is in its restricted minimalism. As with the exception of a very early scene involving Ian Locke (Hardy) getting in his car, we see nothing but his face and flow of outside traffic for the rest of the film.
Locke tells the story of the night before the biggest day in Ian Locke’s construction career. He is one day away from being the foreman who heads the biggest concrete pour in the history of Europe involving 218 trucks. Or is he? On his way home from the site, he gets a call from Bethan (Colman), a one night stand who announces to him she is minutes away from giving birth to his child. The rest of the film concerns battles with his subconscious, as Ian must get replacements for him in time for the next day’s pour, as well as struggle with calming Bethan down and break the news of his infidelities to his wife, who also happens to be the mother of his two children.
Did I mention all of the above happens through phone conversations in the confines of his BMW? Writer/director Steven Knight (who wrote Eastern Promises) cakes the film in a huge amount of unpredictability. There is a certain amount of claustrophobia and tension that comes with the setting of the film taking place within Locke’s drive from Birmingham to London (I cannot tell if it’s in real-time). When voices flow from Ian’s speakers & into our ears, it causes us to be locked into Ian’s brain. We slowly realize that the reason Ian intends on being there for the birth of Bethan’s child is because of how his own father treated him from the very beginning. The fact that Bethan’s neediness is proving to be Ian’s weakness draws us into the story even further.
No matter how well Knight shoots the car or cursive traffic outside, Locke’s minimalistic success depended on the charisma of its lead. And by god does Hardy step up to the plate and knock it out of the park here. The whole premise would have fallen on its face had we not liked Hardy in the role. As it is, Ian is a despicably hard-working man who has cheated on his wife. Yet the film’s most high-wire displays of tension involve whether or not we are witnessing the slow ruining of Ian’s life. Even the unseen cast is good. With only their voices at their disposal, they succeed just as much in ratcheting the tension as much as they do in putting wrinkles on Ian’s streamlined face.
The only times Knight’s exploration of Ian’s conscience gets him into trouble is when it shifts Ian’s conversations to ones involving his no longer living deadbeat dad, whom he imagines being in the backseat of his car. I understand that these scenes are put in to outline why Ian is putting up with Bethan. But they completely distracted me, taking me right out of the tension that is going on with his outside world. Worse part being there isn’t even any closure with that portion of his life, deeming these scenes almost useless.
Locke is a very well told story about a man trying to keep his life from collapsing under him. It is a character study at its minimalistic best. There were times when it felt a little too much like the inferior Ryan Reynolds starrer, Buried. But I can get past that when taking into account this is pretty much a one-act play starring Tom Hardy and takes place within the confines of a BMW at night. Sure the film derails in scenes involving the interrogation of Ian’s dead father. But the proof is in the pudding folks: Hardy is here to stay. Let’s hope his future doesn’t involve him starring in more Reese Witherspoon rom-coms.