If Locke fails as a movie, which it doesn’t, it would find a very successful career as a one-man stage play. Easy to produce. Limited characters. Minimal props and set dressing. No action. You only need two things: Steven Knight’s screenplay and, if you can, Tom Hardy in the leading role. My strong suspicion is that if Hardy lands the role on stage, you will not see him in film again for at least 6 months.
Locke is a daringly brilliant motion picture, so tender in its writing and meticulous in its construction of its central figure, Ivan Locke, who spends a night on a highway wrestling the consequences of a fateful mistake made 7 months ago. The idea of the movie almost seems impossible. How many moviegoers will willingly sit through 85 minutes of a man sitting in his car, talking to his Bluetooth phone, scratching his head and peering out the window as if witnessing a horrific accident? About as many as those who would do the same. I will leave you to make the calculations.
But Locke is more than driving and talking and woeful gazes. It is an introspective analysis of a man burdened by his past, present and the inevitability of his future. His past is brought into focus by two things: 1) His deteriorated relationship with his dad, who was never around, wasn’t at his birth, and sinned against the family in some way, and 2) His 7-month old affair with a secretary, which he assures his wife over the phone was a one-time thing and only did it because she was lonely, depressed and needed company. Maybe her body needed company more than her soul; men can seldom tell the difference. His hatred for his father doesn’t explain why he slept with his secretary, but it explains why he’s driving three hours to London for the birth of their illegitimate child. This has to be done tonight, because it’s the right thing to do.
His present is where we find and follow him. This is the juggling act. We learn through a multitude of phone calls that he’s on the way to the hospital. The secretary, Bethan (Olivia Colman), is hysterical waiting for him. She’s cold, worried, and keeps asking if he loves her back. Most men would say yes to shut her up with a smile, but Ivan’s loyalties are concrete, perhaps because he knows he’s going to need every resilient fibre in his being to break the news to his wife, Katrina (Ruth Wilson). And also because he deals in concrete.
Added to the present is a concrete-pouring predicament. Tonnes and tonnes of raw cement are arriving tomorrow morning. Ivan is supposed to oversee the shipment and ensure the foundations of his latest building are in place before construction begins. He’s worked for this construction company for 9 years, 10 according to his boss Gareth (Ben Daniels), who is less than enthused by the news: I won’t be at the site tomorrow Gareth. My personal life has imploded in one night. Gareth is upset, so is Chicago, the headquarters, or the client. Ivan’s fired. In 9 (10) years he’s never had a slip up like this. But such is the man; he continues to make arrangements for the pour despite being fired.
He corresponds with an alcoholic coworker, Donal (Andrew Scott), instructing him to make the necessary phone calls, ensure that all the right roads are cordoned off. Donal, increasingly inebriated as the night wears on, evolves into comic relief, thankfully so. Ivan carries so much weight we feel as if the floorboard of his car will give way.
What about Ivan’s future? Well it’s in the future, isn’t it? What will happen to his marriage, to his two sons? Will he keep Bethan’s baby and treat it as his own? How will the pour go? Will the building be built to Ivan’s expectations?
Tom Hardy plays Ivan with such a fracture of the spirit. It is an agonising joy to watch him. Even though his accent wavers into Indian territory at times, he retains his stately fragility. Indeed, Ivan’s entire world has imploded in the short span of a couple of hours. Everything makes sense. That one mistake, dormant for so long, has swiftly erupted unexpectedly, cascading a mudslide of problems towards his unarmed ego. He deals with it as best he can, which I suppose is admirable. You can’t blame him for saying the things he says, nor can you fault the people on the other end of the line for reacting the way they do. Locke is a movie about people, communication, heartache, and loneliness. It is minimal and quietly striking. It’s one of the best movies of the year.
Best Moment | I particularly enjoyed Ivan’s banter with Donal. Ivan’s sympathetic, yes, but so is Donal, because he’s been dumped a massive workload without warning and given the span of a night to straighten it all out. Their dialogue is light-hearted and comical, much needed respite from the rest of the movie’s tragedies.
Worst Moment | Nope.