A hard to sell plot like that of Steven Knight’s Locke, set pretty much entirely at the wheel of a car with one man, is in concept reminiscent of a Cast Away or an All Is Lost. You add the character’s dilemma and you might also think of a Buried or a Phone Booth. Locke is though not a hard sell at all, and not really like any of those movies it turns out. This plot revolving around a dramatic change of fortunes for one man on a 90 minute drive to London at night is neither simple nor tedious. Not even for one of those minutes. It’s actually a compelling and realistic ride, with a truly momentous central performance by Tom Hardy.
Perhaps best known as Bronson, or Bane. Or his swath turn in Inception, or slick role in Lawless. You pick one. His range of roles and the quality he brings to them is admirable, and with Locke those and others may have been edged into the shadows. Hardy is so good here. It appears he does little physically, but with each call he makes, each scenario, each mile of his journey, comes a different way to handle it. Hardy as Ivan Locke, wispy beard and sleeves rolled up, acts with all the emotion and longing that ever-so-slightly begins to seep from him, even for such a composed man.
Ivan appears practical and organised. His expertise of how everything works within his job is so admirable, you are forgiven for forgetting his fuck-up is the reason he has to give such meticulous instructions to begrudgingly put out colleagues. That, and the fact Ivan is one hundred and fifty percent dedicated to the job. A job he clearly gets acclaim for, is passionate about, a job he excels in, and the importance of his role is clear. And that is part of the frustration of his co-workers, not just the fact he is about to really let them down when he is needed the most. His commitment is first rate, regardless of whether he will have a job or not in the morning.
Ivan also appears to be full to the brim with guilt about what this decision he has made could do to his family life (and rightly so). What it will do to his wife, who is making him sausages and has so far tolerated his concrete footprints in the kitchen. What it will do to his kids, two boys, urging him to hurry home for the football match – which turns out to be a cracker of a game. While driving, talking to his family over the speaker phone, Ivan has to try and hide his tensions. He has somewhat to us, the audience, so far. But people who know him, know something is not right. As soon as Ivan delves into why he won’t be coming home, his wife is onto him and her reaction is heart-rendingly real. Even his kids know something is wrong – “Why aren’t you going mad dad?” asks one son when their team have excitedly taken the lead from being a goal down.
At first then, even with a dilemma we were unaware of, Ivan was calm and collected, and was determined to see his life-altering decision through. Of course there is something in the actual car journey he is taking and the jeopardy of the massive construction, that aligns to the state he is currently in. Cracks do start to show eventually, as expected, but they take their time, and hold strong. And this is credit to the character of Ivan, not quite through stubbornness or denial, more a conscious effort to move keep moving forward, and not turning back. This choice is somewhat driven by Ivan’s father, who he speaks to through the rear view mirror as if an unwanted passenger in his car. Not wanted, no, but required as some kind of bitter motivation for our protagonist. An abstract one-way interaction that allows Ivan to be vocal about his hatred for this man (“I could dig you up, and it would be a happy day in hell because they would be rid of you for a bit”), and show his own father that he would be taking a different road to him. Only, his realization soon that they are not that different is quite daunting and upsetting.
Other than the gliding bobbles of color passing by, reflecting through the vehicle’s glass out in the night-time motorway (the editing and cinematography are refreshingly great), you don’t have much choice to take your eyes off Tom Hardy. But you don’t want to anyway. His anguish oozes from him as he just tries to keep it together. He shows moments, seconds of eruption. He tries to convince and reassure himself and the person at the other end of the line, while tears roll down his face. Hardy is simply brilliant, it is like watching a real person in real time. And in the wide open night roads or within the enclosure of the driver’s seat, Locke has nowhere to go for the moment to really escape his catastrophe.
And although not quite conceivable as part of the plot, it crosses your mind that there could be a car accident here, or at any time. Is that how it will end? It’s night time, our driver’s anxiety levels are getting higher, the traffic seems good, the road looks clear enough. Perfect for a skid or sudden bump. Even as each phone call comes in (or the call waiting voice during a call) you find yourself wondering who that is, and how will he deal with this next conversation. Or why does he take that medicine at the start? There’s a thing line of suspense, never over-powering, but still keeps our eyes on the road. What Locke does too is make you really feel for this man, who has put himself in this situation. He is the one that has fucked up, but by the time we realise the journey of the movie is coming to a close (and long after I might add), we hope Ivan will be able to salvage some good from this wreckage.
When Tom Hardy won Best Actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics I, and many others, wondered where he came from. As always with awards season, and the lead up to the Oscars, there a the front-runners, and those that pop up now and then. Hardy should be part of the former group rather than the latter. A performance so isolated and poignant, the movie’s excellence kind of depends on him. And boy does he deliver.