It’s not often that I'm caught completely off-guard by a movie, but Locke did just that.
Going in expecting a gruff British gangster thriller, Steven Knight’s (writer & director) reflective character study came as quite a shock.
Tom Hardy plays Mr Nice Guy, Ivan Locke, who decides to drive off into the night on his way home from the building site he’s working on. And, before we really get a chance to know the man, his whole world is turned upside down as we realise he’s got a serious mess to clean up.
From the moment Locke gets into his car, the camera never leaves the vehicle – or Hardy’s side – for the following 90 minutes. Just like ‘Buried’ a few years back, Knight remarkably manages to find endless angles in such a restricted space. He transcends the confines of Hardy’s vehicle and makes the whole piece feel infinitely larger in scale. It really is a remarkable technical achievement.
In fact, Knight also perfectly captures the monotonous beauty of night-time motorway driving. Those roads seem endlessly mundane, but almost hypnotic, and his use of street lighting is really effective.
With Hardy being the only actor on screen for the entirety of the movie, the narrative plays out in a series of phone calls. The vocal performances are variable in quality, but they deliver a select few moments of real pain and anguish. However, in the end, their sole purpose is to give Hardy something to act against and, while his accent wobbles, his physical performance is truly impressive. He makes particular use of his eyes, and a number of facial tics are devastatingly effective.
While Locke’s strange fixation with all things concrete is understandably rather difficult to relate to and even though his behaviour is often erratic, there’s a great deal of shared ground with the character. And it’s when the tears start to flow that you finally realise you’re on this guy’s side. He’s got some major issues, but he seems to be a nice guy and it’s empowering to see him tackling his problem head-on. It’s this exploratory character study that stands out as the crux of the whole movie.
Don’t let the poster, the title or the star fool you, Locke is no British crime thriller. It’s a movie about concrete, motorways and Tom Hardy’s beard . . . and it’s quietly wonderful.