A film about Tom Hardy driving a car late at night and talking to people on the phone. Yep, that’s literally what the movie is about, and it kept me engrossed from start to finish.
Like Buried from a few years back, Locke is a minimalist one-man show in one location, but instead of a coffin it takes place inside a BMW belonging to Ivan Locke, a construction foreman. Being only vaguely aware of the film’s premise, I assumed that its hero will be an ordinary man who finds himself caught in a suspenseful action movie or something along these lines. I was only half-right; while Locke is indeed an ordinary man, the story that follows happens entirely because of his own decisions and there are no bad guys in sight to chase him.
On the evening before he must supervise a concrete pour that’s the biggest job of his life, Locke is about to head home to watch a football match and chill with his wife and two teenage sons, when he gets a phone call. Turns out, several months ago he had a one-night stand with a lonely colleague, who fell pregnant and is now about to go into a labour two months too early. Partly because of his own personal history, Locke wants to take responsibility and make right on a wrong thing he’s done. But his decision to drive to the hospital in order to be there for the mother and the baby makes wreckage of the two things in his life he cares the most, his family and his job.
From the moment Locke gets inside the car, we stay with him for the rest of the movie; we listen to his conversations but the film never cuts to the people on the other end of the line. The drive itself is uneventful and the whole movie is essentially a string of phone calls between Locke and his wife, his sons, his irate boss, his backup work colleague who’s now in charge, the mother of his future child and various staff at the hospital. Even as his life is crumbling around him, Locke is determined to catch the pieces before they fall to the ground, and make sure that his marriage is preserved and the concrete pour goes off without a hitch. Somehow the movie makes the intricacies of concrete sound like the stuff of a nail-biting thriller.
Locke does its utmost to look cinematic and visually interesting within the constraints it imposes on itself. I find there’s always an odd sort of loneliness to a late-night motorway drive, and a strange beauty to the lit-up surroundings that look like a bland stretch of concrete during the day, and the film captures these qualities well.
Tom Hardy’s magnetic presence makes spending eighty minutes or so in the company of his character easy. For most of the time, Locke speaks in calm and measured tones of a man who’s used to be in charge, someone with a rational engineer mind who believes that everything in life can be fixed. But Hardy also conveys the toll of the tension, especially during the more unhinged monologues directed at Locke’s no-good deceased father. I like a simple idea that’s executed well, and this movie does a great job with its pared-down concept.