Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is the foreman on a massive construction job, the largest concrete pour in Europe. He leaves the site in his BMW and begins a series of phone calls. We soon learn, as he makes the journey to London, that life as he knows is about to fall apart for “Locke.”
Longtime scribe and sophomore helmer Steven Knight brings us a gripping one man show with Tom Hardy giving what may be his best role to date. As Ivan drives and makes and takes phone calls, we see what his life was like – respected construction boss and the father of two boys with his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson). But, he screwed up big time. Nearly a year ago he had a one night stand, while away from home on the job, with 42-year old Bethan (Olivia Coleman), who is pregnant with his child and about to give birth.
As if this not enough for him to deal with, he makes the decision to do the right thing and go to Bethan, risking his job and his family. The camera is on Ivan for nearly the entire film, during his 85-minute drive to London, with the rest of the cast as the faceless voices he talks to on his car phone – Katrina, his boys Sean (Bill Milner) and Eddie (Tom Holland), Bethan, his boss, Gareth (Ben Daniels), assistant Donal (Andrew Scott) and others. He juggles all of these calls and the angst he experiences because he has decided to do the right thing is palpable. He and we see his good life crumble as he draws closer and closer to his final destination.
Steven Knight does an exemplary job as both writer and director and garners an emotional, believable performance from Tom Hardy. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, tied to the confines of Ivan’s SUV, uses multiple cameras and different points of view inside and outside the car to make the setting intimate but not claustrophobic. Editing, by Justine Wright, is tight and fast and helps keep the film’s tensions high. “Locke” is a true original. I give it a B+.
On the night before the biggest commercial cement pour in Europe, the site manager gets a life altering phone call. Making a decision to do the right thing, he gets in his BMW to drive from Birmingham to London. During an hour and a half on the M1, job and family will implode, but two other towering events will bless Ivan "Locke."
"Phone Booth" and "Buried" are but two examples of thrillers with one character in an enclosed space but writer/director Steven Knight (writer "Dirty Pretty Things," "Eastern Promises"), his star Tom Hardy ("Warrior," "The Dark Knight Rises") and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos ("Thor") have created such a compelling study of a man hanging onto his morals from within a pressure cooker it's as if they'd invented the genre. In his best performance to date, Hardy, employing a measured Welsh accent, only gradually reveals the source of his determination, and he does this by speaking to an imaginary passenger without appearing silly in the process. Ivan Locke is a man used to being in control who retains his focus when everything is spinning out of it.
Knight has cannily created a character who his audience sees as highly moral while everyone Locke engages with judges him harshly. There's his favored employee, Donal (voice of Andrew Scott, PBS's 'Sherlock'), who's so freaked out by being handed immense responsibility he begins to drink on the job. His boss Gareth (voice of Ben Daniels, "Jack the Giant Slayer"), programmed into Locke's car phone as 'Bastard,' is apoplectic when he hears Ivan's abandoned his post. His sons, Eddie (voice of Tom Holland, "The Impossible") and Sean (voice of Bill Milner, "Son of Rambow"), are dismayed that he's missing a highly anticipated football match the family had made plans around. His wife Katrina (voice of Ruth Wilson, "The Lone Ranger") is so shattered to hear the truth she declares an unalterable edict. Only Bethan (voice of Olivia Colman, "Hyde Park on Hudson"), the woman Ivan's rushing to, makes no accusations, instead pleading to be told a lie, one which those attending to her assume as truth.
Knight builds real tension into these calls. They start slowly, Ivan having to repeat himself constantly. As situations in Birmingham, home and London escalate, the calls begin to stack, Locke aware that another crisis awaits as he deals with the current one. All the while, Zambarloukos keeps the film visually interesting with stylish commentary. With three RED Epic digital cameras fitted onto the BMW, we see Locke from the side of the vehicle, from outside of it, from inside of it. He's reflected onto cityscapes while night lights reflect back onto him. We see what's ahead and what's already gone by.
That this man never once loses his temper, only breaking out of his calm procedurals for reveries on the beauty of his buildings, says a lot about his steadfast character. He makes the right things happen and we want to see the same done by him. Do they? Knight manages to have everything go against Locke, including the mission we accompany him on, and yet end on a note of great hope. "Locke," with one man in a car for 85 minutes, is incredibly accomplished filmmaking.
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