Never before has one man in a car been so thoroughly engaging to watch.
In Locke, the improbable proves possible — and in more ways than one. The second film from director Steven Knight (best known as the screenwriter of Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises and The Hundred-Foot Journey) takes the simple and routine and turns it into the complex and compelling. Never before has a one-man effort, set solely in a car, structured around a series of phone calls and ostensibly concerning the machinations of the largest concrete pour in history become so engaging and immersive.
As the titular figure and only on-screen presence, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is the lynchpin in the spoken drama. He leaves work one evening, but rather than head for a home that boasts a wife (Ruth Wilson) and two sons (Tom Holland and Bill Miner) waiting to watch a soccer match with him, or even for a good night's rest before the important day that awaits, the building site foreman drives away from his usual responsibilities.
Conversations crystalise the details, sentiments escalating as he informs all those relying upon his dependable nature of the departure from his duties as an employee, husband and father. Increasingly upset altercations with a co-worker (Olivia Colman) in hospital are revelatory, as Locke faces the repercussions of an ill-thought-out act from his past.
Of course, the central conceit of a single protagonist within a lone location is far from new; however, Knight does more than merely follow a formula. Avoiding easy comparisons with the likes of classics Lifeboat, Rope and Rear Window and recent thrillers Cube, Phone Booth and Buried, the filmmaker explores a situation marked by its modesty rather than its gimmick.
The stakes are far from life and death, the crux of the story is akin to those seen in a soap opera, but tension radiates from the mundane and relatable. What results is the juxtaposition of several layers of confinement: physically, in a car careening towards London; emotionally, amid the reactions of all immersed in the mess; morally, in doing the right thing in the wrong circumstances
Accordingly, Locke succeeds via the astute intersection of terse scripting, inventive filming and an exceptional performance. Knight's war of words never falls victim to complacency, every exchange adding to the pile of punishing problems and pulsating pressure.
Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos's (Thor) slick gaze offers a shiny veneer peppered with imperfections, creating imagery that matches the film's thematic thrust. But it is Hardy, Welsh-accented and stone-faced, that makes the scenario leap from the screen as he simmers under the strain of his character's choices. The feature's greatest achievement may stem from eliciting interest from its story, style and structure; however, it is its lead that sears its exploration of the inescapable inexplicably into memory.
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