Tom Hardy makes 85 minutes of phone conversations in a car tense and engaging
Locke is an understated dramatic thriller about Ivan Locke, a family man whose choice to do what is right sets into motion a series of events that threaten his job and more importantly, his family. The central conceit is that this film takes place entirely in one location, Locke's car, with all dialogue coming from phone conversations, or occasionally, Locke speaking to himself. While the story is a little clunky, the film succeeds on the stellar performance of star Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises).
Locke can be easily compared to recent single location/single actor films such as All is Lost starring Robert Redford, or Buried starring Ryan Reynolds. What's different here is that rather than external forces keeping the central characters contained to the location, Locke remains driving into the car due to the heavy internal reasons. Over the course of the film, we see the emotional ramifications of his choices as his professional and personal life start to fall apart, and yet, the stakes never feel terribly high.
Tom Hardy's performance as Locke is riveting and perfectly understated, as it needs to be to hold our attention for the duration of the film. He is a man determined to do right by all cost, which comes with severe repercussions. Although I found his Welsh accent a little distracting, he gives a moving performance where every subtle facial expression delivers huge meaning and lots of emotion, particularly in between phone calls when he is contemplating or reacting to his own situation.
Director Steven Knight (Redemption) does a very good job at holding our attention by pairing the sincere performance with unique and dream-like visuals. Every shot in the film has motion, which almost becomes mesmerizing as we see street lights, cars, and trucks fly past Hardy's face, reflected against the glass. At times there he even effectively separated visual from audio to show Locke's breakdown. Listening to Locke speaking to himself while watching him stare silently at the road was a unique and eerie way to communicate his mental dissociation.
In order to deliver information, and keep the scenes dynamic, Locke spends most of the runtime communicating with various people in his life via phone conversations. He speaks with a one time fling, an angry boss, and a drunk coworker who provides some comic relief, and we see him deal with his troubled marriage through deeply painful conversations with his wife and sons. While these conversations feel organic, occasionally Locke imagines that his father is in the back seat, and has tense conversations with himself. These scenes feel like a clunky way for the character to deliver backstory and communicate their motivation, and they never fully worked for me. Rather, the moments when he is silent were the most effective at communicating the emotional ramifications of righting a wrong.
While the acting is superb, the subplot of his determination to complete a task for work (the company's largest ever delivery of concrete) is never made very interesting. On top of this, the movie never seems to earn his commitment to this task, making it feel slightly unnecessary and inconsequential.
Overall, Locke is a gripping and original drama about one man's determination to do right, and question his own moral compass. It thrives on Hardy's subtle and emotionally moving performance, and manages to hold your attention with unique visuals, yet the story itself feels slightly underwhelming due to a script which never establishes high enough stakes.
Locke hits select theaters April 25, 2014.