[IM Global / Shoebox Films]
Directed by Steven Knight
Written by Steven Knight
Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Tom Holland
Synopsis: Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his carefully cultivated existence.
Ivan Locke is one of the best construction managers in the UK; a meticulous man who obsesses over structure, composition, and integrity. Over the best part of a decade he has cultivated an incredible reputation for himself, and now stands on the cusp of an historical event in construction: the biggest concrete pour in Europe that’s not for a nuclear or military installation. This is the moment that Ivan has been preparing for his entire life.
As with all construction though, one slight error, one tiny mistake, one minute crack, can bring down even the largest and most stable of structures. This is where Ivan Locke finds himself, abandoning his post and racing down the motorway from Birmingham to London late at night, to try and address an old mistake he made. “I’ll fix it, and it’ll all go back to normal”, he promises his son, exposing his lack of understanding, or perhaps naivety when it comes to the situation.
Almost all of Locke’s runtime features Tom Hardy’s Ivan driving his BMW and talking on the phone. That’s it. It’s fair to say that the marketing for Locke has been rather misleading; the trailer is brilliantly structured, but implies that the final product is an intense thriller with far reaching implications, when in actuality, all is laid bare within the first ten minutes; the stakes decidedly normal at best, or even mundane at worst. Those expecting a convoluted, twist filled plot or even a pulse pounding ticking clock dilemma will leave largely unsatisfied, perhaps even going so far as to feel cheated.
But this is not what director Steven Knight’s sophomore feature film is concerned with. Locke could have easily been another conventional thriller – instead it contains a set of very ordinary circumstances, channeling the kitchen sink social realist ethos that permeates many independent British dramas. Primarily, Locke is a story of responsibility and loyalty, and how sometimes we push their definitions to the limit.
Locke is set entirely within the confines of one car journey, a piece of kinetic theater with a simplistic purpose and a clear path to it. As Ivan speeds down the motorway in his swanky motor, he tries desperately to keep his life under control. As the situation becomes more dire, the car trembles in Ivan’s hands as the road becomes rough, the music swells, the lights from other traffic dance across the car with a rapacious energy, and the urgency of the film is maintained through intelligent and stunning directorial choices.
Over the span of 80 minutes, Knight moves the camera around with surprising deftness, never becoming too static or boring. What’s more, he manages to integrate the bustling outside world into the shots; the dazzling visual cacophony of lights and roadside noise all crashing against the outside shell of the car, heightening the engagement of the film rather than distracting from it.
The film is edited together incredibly well, flowing from one call to the next whilst keeping the audience engaged. The stakes are comparatively low by movie standards (no nuclear bombs to defuse here), and yet you are gripped for the entire duration, which is a testament to the direction and editing of the piece. What’s most admirable is how Knight is able to extract tension from the ordinary – you’ll swear that Ivan’s dulcet ringtone becomes more aggressive as the film continues and the stakes slowly raise – and the impassive female voice of “call waiting” will only serve to heighten the feeling of impending doom.
Due to the environmental confines, this is primarily a one man show, and Hardy embodies the role masterfully, delivering an accomplished performance whilst wrestling with the Welsh accent. Whether Hardy is trying to calm a delirious woman, or explain the intricacies of pouring concrete, he sounds like Richard Burton narrating Ivor The Engine.
Despite the fact that Hardy is the only actor who appears on screen, he is joined by a talented supporting cast including Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur, Broadchurch), Ruth Wilson (Jane Eyre, Luther), and Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Saving Private Ryan) who all shine as the pillars on whom Locke’s current set of circumstances rest. Colman in particular imbues her small role with a lot of emotion and pathos, becoming by far the most sympathetic character in the film.
Ostensibly, Locke is a piece of performance theatre, with which Hardy is more than familiar. While over the years he has proven that he can play big roles, and act through force in The Dark Knight Rises, Warrior, and Bronson, this is the first time where we can really see how small he can be. The script is obviously very talky, but there is also an awful lot that is shown instead of told: the slump in Ivan’s shoulders, the defeat in his eyes when pleading with his family, the brief fire he conveys when he’s extolling flowery poetry about concrete “Do it for the piece of sky that we’re stealing with our building!”.
There are moments however where Ivan’s cool and calm demeanour breaks down, and this is likely to be a divisive element among audiences. At times, Ivan has angry shouting matches with the back seat of his car, a representation of his own father and the baggage that follows him and drives him to make the decision that kicks the events of the film into gear. While it certainly does have its place, and there is some sublime symbolism at play, it also serves as the most heavy handed part of the piece. Essentially, Knight needed to find a way to get inside Ivan’s head to tell the audience more about his state of mind and this is where the film’s theatrical trappings become most apparent (and limiting).
Despite some flaws, Locke is a startling cinematic achievement. It’s a strong, well acted drama about choices and their consequences, and how sometimes doing the right thing isn’t as simple as making a decision. Ironically, it’s Ivan’s own obsession with construction and order that leads to his own deconstruction. Where Locke triumphs most is the message the mistakes that place him in the driver’s seat, but hardly in control, are all too human. There’s a bit of Ivan Locke in all of us, and it stays with the observant viewer long after the film is over.
Locke is available on Blu-Ray and DVD. Check out the trailer below: