In a year which already boasts several outstanding British and Irish independent films (Calvary, The Double, Under the Skin) Locke is up there with the best.
Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a construction site foreman working on the foundations of a 55 storey Birmingham skyscraper. At the start of the film we see him leave work and get into his BMW. Thereafter we become night-time passengers on his drive to London and the only face we see is his. Through conversations on his Bluetooth in-car phone we learn that he has decided to be present at the birth of his child – the result of a one-night stand with Bethan (voiced by Olivia Coleman), who is ‘quite a fragile person’ and has no friends in London. Locke has not yet told his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) and the situation is further complicated by the next day’s crucial concrete pour (‘£10 million in 10 minutes’), which Locke is expected to supervise.
Working in such constricted space, Writer-Director Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Peaky Blinders) has created an original thriller/road movie that punches above its weight. It has tension and suspense: how will his family and colleagues react to his news? Will the baby be okay? Will the concrete pour go pear-shaped? But don’t expect any car chases or explosions. Locke is a very British road movie – more M6 than Route 66 – in which the physical journey is accompanied by a psychological one and everyday lives are changed.
Tom Hardy is compelling in the title role. His face is on screen for most of the film’s 85 minutes and never gets boring. It is his voice, though, that makes his performance. Hardy’s musical Welsh tenor is balm to the ear – think Rob Brydon doing Richard Burton. (Brydon, incidentally, starred in Marion and Geoff, which featured fixed-camera taxi monologues). Locke is an Everyman trying to do the right thing and we root for him as his life begins to unravel. The supporting (audio) cast is also excellent, with Andrew Scott (Moriarty in TV’s Sherlock) in particular revelling in his role as Donal, Locke’s panicking cider-drinking colleague.
Locke loves his wife and sons, but she suspects he’s more in love with his buildings. ‘Do it for the piece of sky that we are stealing,’ he tells Donal, making him run to deliver a crucial message. Concrete becomes fascinating in this film and we learn quite a lot about it. Although he’s absent, Locke demands that his workmates get the concrete foundation right – ‘one tiny mistake, and the whole lot comes crashing down.’ He could be talking about his own life. ‘You leave concrete everywhere,’ says Katrina, ‘footprints turning to stone on the kitchen floor.’
Locke’s motivation to drive to the hospital stems from a desire to ‘straighten the family name’. In contrast to his ‘weak’, largely absent father, who he despised, Locke will ‘fix things.’ He starts the journey with a to-do list, and is calm and collected as he drops his phonecall bombshells. But his attempts to multi-task and negotiate ‘practical next steps’ from the driving seat cause devastation. His voice remains soothing, but his face tells a different story. ‘I’m going mad inside,’ he says, ‘but I’m driving.’
Hardy’s visual charisma makes Locke more than just a superior radio play, as do the editing and the hypnotic effect of the camera work by award-winning director of photography Haris Zambarloukos. The car’s dashboard and satnav assume an unfamiliar beauty; oncoming headlights blur into UFO shapes; red and yellow motorway lights spangle and morph as if they are on a Christmas tree.