A film review by Craig J. Koban June 13, 2014

RANK: #11

LOCKE jjjj

2014, R, 85 mins.


Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke  /  Ruth Wilson as Katrina  /  Andrew Scott as Donal  /  Olivia Colman as Bethan  /  Tom Holland as Eddie  /  Ben Daniels as Gareth  /  Bill Milner as Sean

Written and directed by Steven Knight

Stephen Knight’s LOCKE is some kind of small-scale miracle of a movie.  In an era where films are dominated by ostentatious visual effects and all-out eye-straining overkill, LOCKE emerges as an effective antidote to such commonplace filmmaking extremes.  It’s simply a masterpiece of filmmaking economy.

To call it minimalist would be a grand understatement: With the minor exception of a couple of opening shots and some perfunctory ones involving exteriors, the majority of Knight’s film transpires entirely within the confines of a BMW and one man’s long and arduous journey along the expressway from Birmingham to London.  The primary action – if you can call it that – involves the ever-increasing pressures that the driver experiences while talking to family members and occupational colleagues via the car’s hands free Bluetooth device.  

The inherent challenge of an experimental film such as LOCKE is to create semblance of narrative momentum and tension within the ultra-small confines of the story’s settings.  Knight seems more than up to the filmmaking challenge here, but he’s especially assisted by a performance of extraordinary focus and power by Tom Hardy, whom – outside of acting opposite of voices on the phone throughout the story – is tasked with carrying the entirety of the film on his shoulders.  Hardy has given many superlative performances during his stellar career, but he just may be at his finest here.

Ivan Locke (Hardy) has a lot on his plate.  He’s a legendary construction foreman known for getting the job done and is about to oversee one of the most technically challenging jobs of his career with an inordinately complex concrete pour in Birmingham.  On the eve of the job, though, Locke learns that he’s about to become a father…but with a work colleague that he impregnated during a drunken one-night stand.  She’s about to go into labor and is panic stricken, seeing as she has no other real friends or family to be by her side.  Feeling responsible for binging a child – albeit an accidental one - into the world, he decides to abandon his work responsibilities – and his wife and children – to make a long journey to the London hospital to be with his mistress during childbirth.



Predictably, his last minute choice – born out of personal guilt and a sense of moral obligation – torments Locke during his drive.  Over the course of his two hour commute on the freeway Locke is forced to deal with not only his angry employer (who is forced to fire him when his higher ups, in turn, force him to do so), but then must also relay all of the tedious details of the important concrete pour to a work colleague that may or may not be up to the challenge of the project.  Beyond feeling responsible for both his soon-to-be-born child and the concrete pour (despite being terminated, he still has pride in getting the task done), Locke is forced to communicate with his wife and explain why he won’t be home to watch a hotly anticipated football match with his kids.  As the night progresses and emotional pressures mount, Locke struggles to deal with the far-reaching consequences of his choices.

LOCKE, obviously and literally, is a deeply insular drama.  The story is as simplistic as it gets: A man finds his typically disciplined and logically ordered life thrown upside down by the pressures of his decisions during one pressure cooker of a night.  From a visual perspective, Knight has the Herculean task of crafting some sort of aesthetic interest in the film without it becoming repetitive and boring.  Thankfully – and rather thanklessly – both he and cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos manage to covey the inherent loneliness and isolation of Locke via some crafty and creative camera moves and editorial variety.  There is very rarely a moment when the camera is not squarely focused on Locke, but it’s nonetheless with the character like a fly-on-the-wall voyeur.  The film creates a dramatic urgency and stirring intimacy largely because of its incredible sparse setting.

There just might not have been an actor that could have taken on the thespian challenge of this film of the calibre of Tom Hardy, who has been steadily taking claim to being one of the most intensely focused and versatile actors of his generation (watching films like BRONSON, WARRIOR, LAWLESS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, there’s not one similar performance in the bunch).  The inherent challenge of LOCKE for the actor is to maintain our interest in this man for nearly 90 minutes straight…and hold our attention.  With a thick Welsh accent and a meticulously mannered inflections, Hardy makes Locke a calmly articulate and internally poised man that desperately tries to stave off emotional implosion.  Perhaps more than any other past character he has portrayed, Hardy’s Locke is a relatable everyman despite his questionable indiscretions.  He also has the difficult job of conveying the whirlwind of confusion, anxiety, and frustration of his character via close-ups and subtle facial language.  I’m not sure that you will see a more quietly spellbinding screen performance in 2014. 

I think, in essence, the main reason that LOCKE is able to foster and maintain audience investment in the film is because the title character could be any one of us.  We can sense Locke’s despair and distressed attempts to right wrongs while giving himself some semblance of personal emancipation from said reckless life choices.  Ultimately, Locke is a semi-doomed man no matter what decision he makes during his evening, which makes the film so absorbing and involving.  As LOCKE unfolds we learn more of where the character’s motivations lie, which is tied to a depressing upbringing with a largely absentee father.  Crucially, Knight never goes out of his way to make us sympathize with Locke (he’s a flawed person that has committed adultery and has willingly betrayed the trust of his family), but rather invites us to witness a man trying to do the right thing despite overwhelming obstacles.  He’s someone that has built a domestic and work life void of struggles that, in one evening, finds it crashing down around him.  He just wants to do what’s right, even if it’s inconvenient and heartbreaking to those around him.

Many might easily write off LOCKE as a one-note stunt film, which would be egregiously misleading.  It belongs on a very short list of accomplished films with remarkably limited premises, like BURIED (about a man buried alive, which all took place in a coffin) and ALL IS LOST (another one-man film, featuring a lone actor battling the elements and himself).  Akin to those two films, LOCKE becomes wholly intoxicating despite – and perhaps as a direct result – of its atypically small scale settings, mostly because of the slow burn approach it takes to highlighting the encroaching squall of desolation and distress that its main character finds himself in.  Yes, this is a film ostensibly involving a man’s hands-free phone calls while driving, but Knight and Hardy tap into the story’s inherent limitations and really say something profound about the fragile human condition.  LOCKE is a trailblazing original and Hardy proves yet again why no filmmaking obstacle can contain and stop him.   

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