Locke (Steven Knight, 2013)
Who is Ivan Locke? He drives a nice BMW, so he must be fairly well-off, and he speaks in a lilting accent that to my ears was unrecognizable, but which I now understand is Welsh. He is someone on whom, we quickly find out, many people depend, and until the fateful 85 minutes we spend with him as he drives down to London form Birmingham, he has been, for the most part, worthy of those people’s expectations. But now, something has changed, and he leaves family and work behind to own up to a responsibility that only he and the woman he has impregnated take seriously.
Steven Knight, who wrote Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises and directed (and wrote) one previous feature, Redemption (starring action hero Jason Statham in a slightly more reflective pose), has here given us what could have been a fairly conventional story of moral awakening and made it infinitely more interesting by keeping all of the action (a misnomer, since all action is through dialogue in the film) in Ivan Locke’s car. Locke is played by Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Lawless), an actor I had always previously thought of as more than adequate, and now find superlative. He is the only man on screen: though he holds many conversations in the course of the film, they are all on his cell phone (hands-free, have no fear), and so we only hear the voices of his interlocutors, yet never see anyone else. As the film begins, he first informs his boss and then his wife that he has taken off to visit a woman he slept with, once, 7 months ago (his erstwhile lover’s water has broken early, hence the surprise departure). He’s not in love with her, yet because his own father abandoned him, he is determined to give this new arrival his name.
And what a name! I know very little of philosophy, but one of the principle theories championed by the great 17th-century thinker John Locke was that of self-determination. Ivan Locke (and Ivan is the equivalent of “John,” in Slavic languages) – our present-day driver – may have heretofore been an excellent construction foreman (and was about to manage the “largest concrete pour in Europe,” as his panicked supervisor keeps reminding him) and model husband and father, but something has grabbed ahold of him tonight, and his will is set. It is his story, and he will tell it as he sees fit. By the end of the night, he may lose his job and his family (though perhaps gain a new child in the process), but that is his choice. And he will give the baby his name.
Hardy is nothing short of spectacular, and holds your interest throughout. The accompanying visuals manage to keep the film from feeling too claustrophobic: as you can read in this interview with the director, the crew used 3 Red cameras mounted on the car hood for a variety of angles, and mixed in exterior shots of the road, as well. Nevertheless, in spite of these camera flourishes, we are rarely looking at anything other than Tom Hardy’s (bearded) face. His eyes, mouth and brow express a wide variety of emotions as each conversation ratchets the emotions ever higher. The stakes are high – everything Locke holds dear is at risk – and it is truly amazing how little else is needed beyond one skilled actor to keep the tension as dynamic as it is. I could quibble over a few things – I found the imaginary conversations Locke holds with his father forced and unnecessary, and didn’t like some of the jarring cuts from moving shots within the car to static shots of the highway – but overall I found the film a marvel to behold, and recommend it highly.