Reportedly shot in a two-week span (one week not counting rehearsals), "Locke" is a highly charged one-person chamber piece that will hold the viewer's interestbut not necessarily his or her patiencefor its 85-minute length. Written and directed by Steven Knight (who penned 2007's "Eastern Promises
"), the film fastens itself behind the wheel with Tom Hardy (2012's "The Dark Knight Rises
") and doesn't leave him until the end credits are rolling. In that time, he talks and then talks some more on his hands-free Bluetooth device, and whenever he runs out of people to electronically chat up, he holds a contentious conversation with his invisible deceased dad sitting in the back seat.
Night has already fallen when construction foreman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) hops in his BMW X5 and leaves work. On a normal evening, he would head home to wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) and his two sonsand, indeed, they are waiting for him to arrive so they can have dinner and watch the game togetherbut this day is different. Bethan (Olivia Colman), a lonely woman with whom he had a one-time affair with seven months prior, is about to have his baby, and he has decided to make the two-hour drive to London to be with her for the birth. Coming clean to a revolving door of acquaintances on his car phone while trying to ensure that a cement pouring the following morning will go off without a hitch in his absence, he faces losing his wife, his home, and even his job by the time he reaches his fateful destination.
Similar to 2010's Ryan Reynolds thriller "Buried
" but without quite the urgent life-or-death situation of being literally trapped under six feet of dirt, "Locke" remains fixed on Ivan as he tries to salvage the wreckage of his wrongdoings over a single night of driving. This plot conceit is what director Steven Knight most relies upon; were the same story told in a conventional narrative with other onscreen actors and locations, it would be accurately labeled as trite. With its storytelling device, there are a host of other issues that pop up, as well. Knight does not trust in the potential weight of silence, so he fills very nearly every frame with Ivan nattering on, each phone call immediately following or being interrupted by the next. In those blessed moments when the calls subside, Ivan segues into imaginary monologues directed at an overly critical father who is no longer living but still haunts his waking hours. There is nothing at all wrong with a motion picture that is predominately talky, but it is the filmmaker's responsibility to mix things up, to trust in the quieter introspective ebbs and flows of life, to not always be telling instead of showing. Knight misses the mark on this, mounting a film that slowly but surely grows in gnat-like monotony and narrative contrivance.
Front and center for ninety-nine percent of the movie's shots (the other one percent is establishing aerial footage of the artery of roads Ivan drives), Tom Hardy is wholly present and in the moment, attempting to keep his calm under mounting pressures and some boneheaded early moves. Coming clean over the phone to your wife of fifteen years that you have been unfaithful and are headed to see your new baby with another woman be born is probably not the best idea, but one must overlook this early insensitivity as an uneasy requirement of the script. Hardy's oddball decision to play the character with a thick Welsh accent and an intonation that makes him sound like an uppity, affected 75-year-old aristocrat is where his performance falters. Ivan should be portrayed as an everyman, someone who has made bad choices but remains identifiable, so opting to deliver the lines like he's never worked a day outside of the palace walls strikes as a misguided hindrance in connecting to him.
"Locke" reveals most of its players and just about all the cards it is working with in the first act. One waits to see how things will play out while expecting some kind of revelation that deepens the movie's intentions or suddenly illuminates what has come before in a fresh light. Not only do these things not happen, but one of Ivan's final lines of dialogue clumsily and insultingly spells out for the viewer everything that has happened during the course of the film (and it's a pretty simplistic plot as it is). On the technical side, Dickon Hinchliffe's (2010's "Winter's Bone
") moody beat of a score and Haris Zambarloukos' (2014's "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
") shady lensing evoke a lonely feeling, but the latter slides into repetition with its limited assortment of shots. There are only so many slow dissolves from one person's face to the windshield of a car a film can withstand before the aesthetic becomes stale. Ultimately, "Locke" is more noteworthy for the process of how it was made than the worthwhileness of the finished outcome, leaving nothing to the imagination while squandering the opportunity to explore what is going on behind Ivan's eyes. It is too bad his mouth never stops yapping long enough to do this.