Dir. Steven Knight
It’s easy to think you’re the only person in the world when confined in the pleasant or comfortably secure entrapments of your car. Early on in Locke, our main man passingly refers to himself as such and we spend the next 85 minutes as he’s driving south at night on the M4 figuring out the details of his singular world - which is entirely in flux. Fortunately, it’s a really nice car that enables him to place calls at the touch of a finger. And unfortunately, it allows him to receive calls.
Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) and his BMW have an onscreen relationship of "Knight Rider" proportions. I’d seen the trailer for the film and scoffed at what appeared to be an extended, glossy BMW commercial. Or, at least, a missing, resurfaced entry in "The Hire" series - with Tom Hardy replacing Clive Owen. But writer/director Steven Knight (hey!) achieves many fine feats in Locke, not the least of them is making the interior of this BMW a fascinating location for just over 80 minutes - and really making this a story that could hardly of happened anywhere else.
We’re introduced to Ivan Locke as he’s leaving his job - a construction site in northern England. He enters his car and heads south on the M4 to London. He’s made a decision, you see, to be a better father than his dad was to him. The theme of “bastards” is prevalent throughout and Ivan is making sure that this woman who’s giving birth to his child in London is not going to be raising a bastard. He'll be damned if he's going to treat this child the way his father treated him. This decision comes at the expense of his job and his wife and two children. It’s a film that studies the decisions we make and the responsibilities that come with them. And Ivan is nothing if not a man of responsibilities and through his car, and the 80+ minute journey to London, we watch in real-time as he tries to juggle his job duties, his family duties, and the birth of this child. It is entirely captivating stuff.
Tom Hardy is still in top physical shape in this film - perhaps not of Bane bulk, but there’s a fine perverseness in Hardy being being confined to a seat, behind a wheel, being at the mercy of buttons and using only his voice to solve his problems. If there’s another ass-kicker of an actor out there who can use his voice to disarm just as well as his fists, I’ve yet to come across him. The fact that Ivan is battling a cold during this trip turns out to be an issue that Hardy was actually dealing with himself, and got written into the script, is just another fine touch. And though we never see any of the people he talks to during the film, the voice work on the other end of the line are all given the same due attention to evocative pauses, and telling timbre.
Ivan goes down this path knowing that it won’t be easy and when he hits speed bumps, like his colleague at his construction site reacting to his departure by hitting the cider, it’s a joy to watch Hardy measure his reactions and contain his frustration. Ivan has a plan but, such is life, can only control so much and his reactions to incoming calls arriving at the wrong time are even comical in its anger management. If films like Bronson show Hardy painting fine art with large brush strokes, this is something of a masterclass in filling a canvas with the smallest of strokes. That’s not to say it’s all subtlety all the time. Ivan’s motivations, and hidden reservoir of anger and bitterness, are brought to surface in his off-phone moments when he tries to work out some of his daddy issues in the rearview mirror.
There are road-trip movies and then there are movies like Locke that never leave the car. What Knight is able to evoke with simple passing lights, like ghosts of memories speeding by, is truly special. At first, you may wonder why he chose to film wide - in a 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio - but that speculation doesn't last long. This isn't a film about a claustrophobic interior. This car provides Ivan a wide expanse. Steven Knight has proven his writing chops with Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things and really gets to shows that he has an equally detailed eye with Locke.
There are plenty of films that take place in one location. Sometimes it’s a dinner table, or even more confining than a car - like a coffin - but, corporate sponsorship aside, rarely has the automobile been such an appropriate tool for progressing a story, building momentum and sustaining tension. As we watch Ivan progress towards London on his dashboard GPS it becomes more and more clear that he won’t be able to tie up everything on this 80 minute journey, but we can easily amaze at what he and this movie we able to accomplish.