Directed by: Steven Knight.
Written by: Steven Knight.
Starring: Tom Hardy (Ivan Locke), Olivia Colman (Bethan), Ruth Wilson Ruth (Katrina), Andrew Scott (Donal), Ben Daniels (Gareth), Tom Holland (Eddie), Bill Milner (Sean), Danny Webb (Cassidy), Alice Lowe (Sister Margaret), Silas Carson (Dr. Gullu), Lee Ross (PC Davids), Kirsty Dillon (Gareth's Wife).
You could hardly have a simpler premise for a movie than the one in Steven Knight’s Locke. The entire film takes place inside of a BMW SUV driven by Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) who makes a series of phone calls in the film’s 90 minute runtime. A lot of these conversations have to do with a concrete pour happening the next day – apparently the largest “non-nuclear, non-military” pour in European history. Locke was supposed to oversee this pour, but now he won’t be able to. He has a “family problem” that he has to take care. When he’s not talking to his boss or his underling or any number of other people about concrete, he’s talking to his wife or one of his two sons and trying to explain what is going on. Finally, there are various conversations about the cause of all his troubles (which I won’t reveal). And that’s it. There is no action, no car chases or shootouts. The film is 90 minutes of Tom Hardy talking on the phone. And it’s wonderful.
Much of the credit for the success of the movie is due to Tom Hardy – who has become one of those actors who I look forward to in every movie he’s in. He can singlehandedly make a movie as forgettable as John Hillcoat’s Lawless memorable, if only because of his strange, mumbling performance. He was able to make Bane into a truly frightening villain, and then in the end much more a scared little boy than anything else. He reminded me of Brando with his small role in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, being a sensitive tough guy. And he can over the top brilliantly like in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. He has the looks and charm of a movie star – but the skill of a character actor. In Locke, he delivers one of his best performances. He plays a man whose world is crumbling all around him, but he tries to remain calm and focused – he has to drive, first of all – but he also needs to keep his head to ensure that those he’s talking to keep theirs. He only allows anger to seep through when he’s not on the phone at all – but is instead talking to his father in the backseat (who isn’t there) as he explains that he will not become the man his father was. He refuses to lie – because after all, lies got him into this mess, and he doesn’t want to be that person anymore. He made one mistake but he’s not trying to avoid responsibility – but instead trying to ensure he steps up and behaves in a moral way, after behaving in an immoral way. It’s a rather complex performance in many ways – he has to convey a wide variety of emotions, without leaving the driver’s seat of his car – but he also has to be interesting enough that the audience doesn’t get restless watching the film. Hardy nails it.
But credit must also go to writer/director Steven Knight as well. One could argue that the film is a gimmick film – and they wouldn’t exactly be wrong – but credit goes to Knight for embracing that gimmick, and riding it all the way. Do you remember the Wes Craven film Red Eye with Cillian Murphy as a psychopath on a plane and Rachel McAdams in the seat next to him? That movie worked wonderfully right up to the point where they abandoned the confines of the aircraft and then it became a typical thriller. Knight follows through on his premise right to the bitter end – and it works so well, that even if the last moment in the film isn’t overly original, it still had me shedding a few tears. Knight is mainly known as a screenwriter – for film as brilliant as Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things (2002) and David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises (2007). This is his second directing effort – following last year’s Redemption with Jason Statham (which I didn’t see, but sounded like it may be somewhat different, at least as far as Jason Statham movies go). Along with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, Knight finds an interesting way to shoot the movie – and editor Justine Wright works wonders at subtly building the tension in what is nothing more than Hardy and the voices on the other on the other end of the phone. Dickson Hinchliffe’s score is never overbearing, but helps set the mood at every stage.
A movie like Locke is proof that you don’t need big special effects or a large cast to make a great movie. Locke is modestly scaled, and yet it works better than most movies do with far more money being spent. It’s a film that concentrates on writing, directing and acting above everything else. Its stakes are small, but it’s so well done you don’t care. This is an antidote to all those blockbusters we’re already seeing – and that will dominate theaters this summer.