So far, the 2010s are proving to be a very internalised era in cinema, with all the traits of gung-ho Reganism, millennial dread, and even post-9/11 claustrophobia seeming like ancient history. These were all primarily American concerns in filmmaking, yet here’s Locke, a British film, joining an international slew of personal demon-chasing that includes 127 Hours, Life of Pi, Gravity and All is Lost in a decade where the cultural revolutions are global: the recession, social media and renewed nuclear fears are pushing contemporary protagonists into intense internal battles in surroundings that were once prized, but are now proving to be perilous.
As with the films I’ve just mentioned, most of Locke‘s action takes place in a single, seemingly inescapable setting, with its protagonist battling with himself as well as his collapsing life. But where the life-or-death situations in 127 Hours et al were entirely literal, here Ivan Locke’s is social; he’s ditching his construction job on the eve of a historical cement pour to travel from Birmingham to the London hospital where a one-night-stand is having his baby. Oh, and his wife doesn’t know about the affair until about twenty minutes into the film.
Tom Hardy’s Locke is the only character that appears onscreen; the whole thing takes place in his car, with the communication being held through hands-free phone calls. Trapped in his BMW 7-series, Hardy can no longer rely on the physicality with which he gained attention in Bronson and The Dark Knight Rises, and it’s interesting to see the actor pull off a role of such restraint. He carries the film well, playing off a script full of excellent dialogue, albeit one with little logic or believability.
This is because Locke is benign to the point where he’s almost biblical. I found it hard to believe that somebody would sacrifice his entire life to be there for a woman who a) he confesses he doesn’t love and b) who he’s only spoken to twice (the first time was when they slept together; the second was when she announced she was going into labour.) Furthermore, anyone who’s spent hours on the phone to a loved one trying to settle an argument will know that Locke’s five-minute disputes with his wife are absolute bullshit. In light of this, it’s not surprising that the best moments come from the humorous phone calls to his hopeless colleague Donal, with whom Locke has left in charge of the pour and needs rigorous tuition on even the most banal of tasks. While it is intriguing and sometimes even gripping to see how the more dramatic narrative threads turn out, it’s the funnier moments that you’ll end up returning for.
None of this is to say that Locke is a bad film, however; it’s an enjoyable and reasonably well-executed experiment in minimalism that finds strength in unceremonious proactivity. That goes for the construction of the film as well; cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos creates an immersive feel by blending the lights of the expansive motorway with the enclosure of Locke’s car, easing the film’s would-be monotonous single setting into a fluid watch. Hardy and director Steven Knight could have easily come across as Oscar-baiters with Locke, but to their credit, they conduct themselves on a much humbler agenda, and Hardy especially is envious for his oozing charisma and effortless talent with which he manages to fill the room regardless.
Locke was written and directed by Steven Knight and stars Tom Hardy. It last just 85 minutes, and is a production of Shoebox Film and IM Global. Distributed in the UK by A24.