Confinement (of the main protagonist and the audience’s point of view) is nothing new in cinema, but there has never been another movie that locks us (sorry) so rigidly or so compellingly into one location as Locke.
That this car-bound movie actually works on any level at all is down to three things: an intelligent script that starts as a mystery and slowly and almost inevitably gives up its secrets; direction (by Steven Knight) that understands we do need outside perspectives other than solely watching from within the front seat of a car (so we get shots of the road ahead and motorway signs); and a mesmerising performance from Tom Hardy as the eponymous, everyman hero/antihero Ivan Locke – a decent, honest, solid man who has made one mistake that is now causing repercussions that are having disastrous effects on his life.
Locke works in concrete and on the eve of the biggest ever pour of concrete in his career he receives a phone call that brings his rather normal, humdrum existence crashing around his ears. He should be on site in the Midlands seeing the foundations going in for a massive structure; instead he finds himself on the motorway to London, having to make hands-free calls to his boss, his second in command, his wife and children trying to explain why Locke the dependable, the man who always delivers, is not going to be there when he’s needed – because he’s needed somewhere else entirely.
It is this dichotomy in Locke that makes the film so watchable – mainly because Tom Hardy makes his character so human, so fallible, you can’t bear not to observe as the wheels come off.
As he sits driving his car, calmly talking while those around him lose it mega-big time, it really is like watching a car crash that is about to happen. But the thing is, the crash never occurs; in his slow, deep Welsh tones, Locke talks it all through and because you believe in him and in the fact he really is a good man at heart, it’s almost as if you are willing him down that stretch of road, wanting him to make it to the end of the journey and for everything to be all right.
Tom Hardy is the only actor you ever see in this film, everyone else is only ever heard as a voice. Some of the voices work better than others, but all are secondary to Hardy – he is Locke; an ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and if he doesn’t win every accolade going for his equally extraordinary performance, then there really is no future for intelligent, understated, compelling movie-making in the modern world.