Could this thriller be Tom Hardy's best performance to date? Simon reviews Steven Knight's Locke...
By his own admission, Tom Hardy is a man who sometimes veers between – and enjoys – overacting and underacting. For Locke, however, he doesn’t have that luxury. Instead, it’s a concentrated 85 minutes of acting and character we get here, in a compulsive thriller set, basically, on the British motorway system. People have already called it Hardy’s best performance, and there’s little evidence throughout Locke‘s running time to disprove the theory.
Locke is a single actor in a single (moving) location piece, not unlike Buried (with Ryan Reynolds) and All Is Lost (with Robert Redford). The single location in this case however is a car, as Hardy’s Ivan Locke leaves his place of work where he’s supervising the following morning’s arrival of hundreds of trucks carrying concrete, to head down towards London. One aside: if you’re in any way interested in the sensitivities of concrete in building work, add a star to the score at the bottom.
Back to the film: the reason for his drive, and his sudden departure from work at such an important moment, gradually becomes clear through the assorted phone calls Ivan makes and receives throughout his journey. It’s those phone calls, and nothing else, that move the narrative along. And, without giving the game away, it would be fair to say that his life at the end of his car journey is very different to the one at the start. We also learn that Ivan is a very methodical, very calm man, and Knight’s screenplay is careful to keep pulling back more and more, and revealing further information about the character’s predicament.
Furthermore, the writing has a logic base as well. The actions of Ivan aren’t always ones that are easy to warm to, but Knight clearly explains the motivations and reasoning for them, which means that his central character is a fully rounded, interesting one.
There are other characters in Locke, though, it’s just that you never see them. On the other end of the phone calls Ivan receives are Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott and Alice Lowe (amongst others), and it’s to the credit of the film that they too feel like legitimate characters, in spite of us never properly seeing their faces.
Knight, aware of the restraints imposed by single location cinema, keeps his running time down to a lean 85 minutes, although it still asks a reasonable amount of the audience. There are only so many ways to shoot a car driving down a road from the inside and outside, and Knight seems to have found all of them.
But if you stick with the film, and go with it, Locke is a very rewarding movie. In fact, at times, it’s quite brilliant. It’s a logical, very tight thriller, with a magnetic lead performance. It’s ultimately down to Hardy to sell the film, and he does just that, by staying steadfastly calm for the vast bulk of Locke’s runtime. It proves to be a very wise decision, and has a real pay off as the tension climbs.
Furthermore, any movie that can make you jolt upwards at a voice simply declaring that there is a call waiting is clearly doing something very right indeed. What could have been a gimmick film turns out to be a very effective, gripping piece of cinema.
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