Ivan Locke is a good man.
That’s the ultimate conflict in Steven Knight’s new film “Locke,” and it’s surprisingly exhilarating despite its simplicity. Locke (Tom Hardy) is a man with unadulterated drive and endurance and a will that refuses to yield to the world around him. Locke offers no excuses, no explanation: he simply does what he thinks is right.
He’s a compelling character and a breath of fresh air when most film protagonists land somewhere on the side of charming superhero or bumbling neurotic…which is good, since he’s the only character we see during the film’s 85 minute run time.
“Locke” has already received attention thanks to its premise: an entire film that takes place during the course of one car ride, featuring a single man as he makes his way down a freeway in England, speaking to other characters over the phone on his dash board.
It’s a premise that takes a lot of risks and could have resulted in a very, very boring film. However, Knight’s movie turns out to be exhilarating over its entirety, and tells a riveting story about a man whose devotion to his ethics ends up destroying his life.
Locke is a successful concrete manager, known in the industry as a dependable, first-rate worker. On the night before the biggest concrete job of his entire career, Locke receives a call from a woman he had an affair with—the one and only in his married life—and she tells him she’s pregnant. Rather than leave the woman and child to fate, Locke makes the decision to drive to the hospital, putting his career, his marriage, and his life as he knows it at risk.
While he’s the only seen character, Locke is perhaps the least dynamic character in the plot. His course has been set, and like the concrete that he is in charge of pouring, he is unyielding once he sets his car in motion. The more interesting characters are the other people in his life—his wife, his boss and his kids—who are sent reeling due to his decision. They are the ones who voice the moral concerns of the audience: why go to this woman? Why give up your job? You made a mistake, but should you really ruin your life because of it?
Locke’s continued resistance to moral relativism, however, is what makes his character such a force in the movie. Everyone “around” him seems intent on letting him off the hook: he need only turn the car around, but the man refuses, growing more entrenched in his willingness to put things in order as the movie goes on.
A lesser actor could have ruined this role, but Hardy delivers a viciously wonderful performance. Locke is steely, doling out commands over the phone to Donal (the voice of Andre Scott), who he’s left in charge of the construction project, with amazing strength and control. When Locke begins to unhinge as the car ride goes on—becoming more aware of the destruction he’s reaping in his life—we simultaneously watch him become more and more obsessed with ensuring that his building project goes through, with or without him. Locke’s poetic ruminations on large buildings—the air that they displace, the water tables they disrupt—reveal him to be a man obsessed with bringing order to a chaotic world.
But Hardy never dehumanizes the man. Despite all his ability, all his confidence in managing his life, Locke suffers greatly throughout the film. We always—though never explicitly stated—see a question painted on his face: Is it worth it? As the car ride goes on and the stakes get higher, this moral question becomes increasingly complex.
Alongside this, “Locke” has some amazingly beautiful cinematography to complement its acting. Considering that he has nothing more than freeway to work with, cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos turns the night-time roadway into a beautiful spectrum of blurred lights and speeding cars. Streetlights become red and white flames burning up in the peripheral of Locke’s enclosed car, mimicking, perhaps, the moral indecision surrounding him.
It’s a unique, empowering film, and well worth your time. Don’t miss it.