Saturday, May 3, 2014


 4 / 5 

Solo performances are nothing new on stage, but when movies try them they often seem like gimmicks.  

Steven Knight's Locke isn't a gimmick, and it never feels contrived, thanks to a remarkably calm and captivating performance by Tom Hardy, along with impeccable help from a handful of actors whose faces are never seen but who nonetheless manage to create sharply defined characters.

Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a construction supervisor who is getting ready for an enormous -- and enormously important -- project.  But as Locke begins, he leaves the construction site in Birmingham, England, and gets in his car with a lot on his mind.  Where he's going and why become clear quickly, along with the implications: By doing what he's doing, Ivan Locke is changing his life.

It wouldn't be fair to reveal the circumstances, but Locke is trying to rectify what he believes is a mistake.  For 90 minutes, he drives the M6 highway, juggling phone calls and working out his problem, both on the phone and in his own head.

Hardy is the only on-screen actor in Locke, and the only set is the inside of his BMW.  The car's high-tech dashboard helps tell the story, as the name of the caller appears on screen, though the script is so sharply drawn that after a while that assistance isn't needed.  There's his wife, Katrina, and his sons Sean and Eddie; there's his boss, Gareth, who is nicknamed "Bastard" in Locke's contact list; there's Locke's colleague Donal; and there's Bethan, a woman in London who Locke is driving to see.  Locke's father is along for the drive, too, though he is long-dead and exists only in Locke's mind, but they have a score to settle -- which is just one of many issues Locke has to resolve as he heads down the dark and lonely road.

Locke is a meticulous man, but his carefully, calmly managed life is coming undone.  He believes he can control the outcome, but the variables don't want to cooperate.  Locke cannot convince everyone else to see the situations as rationally, as thoughtfully as he does.

In his cool, controlled cadence (Hardy has a remarkable voice, and he uses it to full effect in Locke), he tries to explain to one of the callers that the mistake he made only happened once, and that its consequences can therefore be managed. Not so, comes the response. "The difference between never and once is the difference between good and bad."

Over and over, Locke insists that what he's doing -- abandoning the project, driving away from his family -- is not at all like him.  He becomes so vocal about this that even he has to start to wonder if the Ivan Locke he thought he was is not actually who he really is.

Locke is a small, tight movie that never feels cramped or confined.  Hardy's fixed, cold gaze keeps us riveted for the film's brief 90-minute running time, and his predicaments -- which pile up and up and up -- become fascinating.  As the film starts, it's hard to know exactly what Locke does for a living; by the time it ends, viewers have become marginal experts on C6 concrete and the way 216 trucks have to line up to pour it just right.  Hardy's description of what would happen if one minor element went wrong, the way the concrete would crack and the building would begin to buckle and eventually come crashing down, not only lets us know what's at stake -- but gets us into his world in ways most movies struggle to do.

Locke begins the film with a job, an important project, a wife, a family, and ends the film, just 90 minutes later, with every one of those in doubt.  Driven by Hardy's mesmerizing performance, haunting cinematography, and sharp editing (along with the supporting voice cast, as well as a fine score by Dickon Hinchliffe), Locke is the kind of cinematic ride that comes along only rarely.  We've certainly been taken on wild rides by movies, and we've been inside cars of every shape and size -- but they've never been combined like this.

Locke isn't melodrama -- never once does a gunshot go off on the other line, for instance -- but it is wholly engrossing nevertheless.  Hardy takes us as deep into the mind of his character as is likely to be possible in a film, and even though he reveals some pretty unpleasant things, Locke the character is always as fully in control as Hardy the actor.

Locke is a gripping, captivating movie, and to its enormous credit never feels like a simple visual experiment.  Though it ends a bit abruptly (I could have spent another solid 15 or 20 minutes hearing things pan out fully), Locke manages the exceedingly rare feat of taking us on a complete emotional journey even while the character never leaves our view.  Locke is top-notch filmmaking and allows Tom Hardy to prove that he's one of the most formidable, and compelling, screen actors working today.

Viewed May 3, 2014 -- Arclight Hollywood


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