The premise of “Locke” is simple, intriguing, and very anti-Hollywood: Tom Hardy (best known as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”) stars as Ivan Locke, a construction supervisor who decides to leave town and drive to London the night before the most important day of his career: a concrete pour for what will become England’s tallest building. The trip is also forcing him to miss an important family gathering with his wife and two sons.
As the film and his trip begins, we’re not sure why Ivan made this decision, but as the miles go by, and Ivan begins a series of phone conversations with the important people who will be dramatically impacted by this trip, pieces of this puzzle start to come together. To truly appreciate the brilliance of “Locke”, it’s best not to know any more of the plot than this before seeing the film. As the next 80 minutes unfold (the film is under an hour and a half) we’re taken on a thrill ride of suspense, as we witness and listen to this average man trying to do what he thinks is right, while under the most extreme pressure of his life.
“Locke” literally is a one-man show. Hardy, who shot his scenes in just six days, is the only actor seen on screen in the film. And he delivers a performance that is raw and powerful, easily deserving of Best Actor consideration come Awards Season. From his facial expressions, to the slightest movements in his seat, we are completely engrossed in Ivan’s rollercoaster ride of emotions from start to finish. This is the strongest Lead Actor performance from the first-half of the 2014, and if there are five better ones by the end of year, I’ll be surprised.
This film is a remarkable achievement. Writer/director Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”) never allows any of the situations or phone conversations to seem forced, with authentic dialogue from every character. The tension, desperation, joy and anger demonstrated through the voices of all those around him while Locke attempts to keep his emotions under control is an amazing juggling act. Ruth Wilson (“Saving Mr. Banks”), as Locke’s wife Katrina and Tom Holland (“The Impossible”) stand-out among the fine voice-over cast. And the script is filled with enough symbolism and layers to keep you thinking about it long after you drive away from the theater.
Since “Locke” takes place entirely inside a car, with one main character, the challenges for Knight were plenty. Some might see this as a gimmick, but Knight uses the unique setting and concept to his full advantage. The tight camera shots and traffic cut-aways add to the realism of the situation and claustrophobia of Ivan as his world is falling apart around him. The cinematography of the highway and blinding nighttime headlights convey the tone perfectly. The pacing is also perfectly executed. Knight includes brief but important pauses after nearly every phone call to allow both Locke and the audience to deal with the critical words that were just exchanged, and to add to the suspense.
“Locke” is rated R for some strong language and adult material. It’s appropriate for teens and up. While all the major studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars, over and over, trying to come-up with stories to wow the public, it’s refreshing to see a small film, with a relatively tiny budget and one on-screen character produce results that most blockbusters can only dream of. This is a gripping, moving, sad and incredibly effective psychological drama that’s close to a “Locke” for my list of the Best Movies of 2014.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Locke” gets an A.