There is a type of person who values principles over people. Who would rather be a “good” person than a kind one, a compassionate one, or one who is loved. Who would sacrifice everything and hurt those closest to him if it meant doing the “right” thing. Ivan Locke is this type of person.
The premise of Steven Knight’s Locke sounds like an entry in the World’s Most Boring Movie Pitch Competition. A construction supervisor spends a 90-minute late-night car trip talking his employee through the process of managing a large-scale concrete pour. The film passes in real(ish) time, and for the entire duration, we are stuck in the car with that one man. We don’t see any other characters. The monotony of the close-up is broken only by occasional external shots of the car and passing headlights. Snooze, right? Before you write this off completely, though, let me remind you that we’re talking about Tom Hardy, and that man can carry the shit out of movie while wearing the hell out of a sweater.
When watching Locke, it may take some time to come to terms with the fact that, yes, this really is the whole movie. Tom Hardy, on a road trip, alternating speakerphone conversations about concrete issues and family problems. Just around the time you may start to get bored with that premise, though, is about when our questions start to get answered: Why are we in this car? Why he is risking his job (he’s supposed to be there for that pour) and his marriage for this trip? Why did I pay $15 for this? (And here begin some plot spoilers, but all for things you find out in the first 20 minutes. Still, since they’re the only meaningful reveals in the whole movie, I thought a warning was in order.) Turns out Ivan Locke has dropped everything to make up for a mistake, seemingly the only mistake he has made in his entire life. As he rushes to be at the side of a woman he barely knows, who is in labor with his child, the product of a one-night stand on a business trip, he struggles to maintain as much order in his life as possible. Because as we know, that’s the most important thing to Locke: to be the kind of man who does the “right” thing, no matter what wreckage he leaves in his wake. He may not have a job anymore, but he’ll be damned if that pour is going to go badly. Sure his marriage looks like it’s dead, but the right combination of words, in just the right light, and maybe if you squint, will fix it up, good as new. (Let’s also take a second to acknowledge the fact that Ivan’s career is—er—was) centered around building skyscrapers, really impressive shiny things that everyone is forced to admire because there’s no way not to. This movie may be quiet, but it’s not exactly subtle.) And the thing is, even as we’re watching Locke throw his life away, it’s impossible to say with all certainty that he’s making the wrong decision. A shitty decision, to be sure, but what would be better?
Given that Hardy has nothing but his speakerphone and a steering wheel to play against, his performance is remarkable. He’s not running all over town, engaging in shaky-cam fight scenes, but he may as well be. Tom Hardy embodies all the turmoil and action of a Harrison Ford 90’s action thriller, but he does it almost entirely internally. Only a handful of times, and then very briefly, do we see the cracks in Ivan’s tower of principles, when he releases his inner tornado of emotional baggage on the projection of his deadbeat father, invisible in his backseat. Still, as impressive as Hardy’s performance is, the ultimate problem with Locke as a film is pretty much unavoidable given the conventions Knight has set up. We are stuck in this car with the man, made to feel as trapped and anxious as he is. And while that claustrophobia definitely heightens the anxiety of the situation, it also comes with the negatives of any car trip. Eight-five minutes trapped in a car feels like 180 in any other situation. You will get squirmy. You will want a break from the monotony. This imposed discomfort feels deliberate on the part of Knight, but that doesn’t make it any more bearable. You know what does make it bearable, though?
Brilliant acting and utter objectification. Don’t tell me that’s not worth your time.