Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott
Ivan Locke (Hardy) is a successful construction site foreman and very much a family man with a wife and two children. However, after receiving a phone call, on the eve of one the most important days in the building construction site he is in charge of, instead of driving home he abandons both that and his family who are waiting for him to join them to watch the football. For the first time in his life he is letting them all down, risking his job and marriage, but due to past experiences, he knows he is doing ultimately the right thing. So begins a long drive and constant phone calls as Ivan struggles to tie up all the loose ends in his life and right all the wrongs, even if it means ultimately letting those that depend on him down.
Though that plot synopsis in isolation may not sound particularly riveting or original, writer/ director Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Hummingbird) has crafted Locke in a way that for me makes it one of the most compelling and engaging dramas of the year so far. Stripped down to be simply 85 minutes of one man driving his car and talking over the phone, it is a raw depiction of a well intentioned man willing to risk it all to do what he thinks is the right thing. In the grand scheme of things this all may be insignificant, but to Ivan Locke it could mean a titanic shift in his life. Through Steven Knight’s superb script in which he makes sure every word of dialogue counts and Tom Hardy’s committed performance, it is impossible not to care about the protagonist and root for him, despite his imperfections.
Complete with bags under his eyes, a cardigan and a snotty nose, Ivan is hardly a spectacular protagonist, and again this is for me what lies in the strength of Locke that it is not only a character driven narrative but also a character examination. He is just a man trying to sort out his life and make amends for his mistakes, even without being in his situation, it is very easy to relate to Ivan and therefore sympathise with him. From start to finish the narrative deeply engages and compels as we really want Ivan to sort everything out.
Without giving too much away, the motivation behind Ivan’s actions is predominantly down to his childhood relationship with his now dead father, who he often has one sided conversations with when looking at the empty backseat through his rear view mirror. These motivations may well come across as clunky and clichéd exposition in the hands of an inferior screenwriter, but Steven Knight makes sure that they feel genuine, honest and believable.
As Ivan, Tom Hardy gives what in my view is his best performance to date. Often a softly spoken and calm figure, Hardy commands the screen and encapsulates the cacophony of emotions that Ivan is feeling through facial expressions often captured in long agonizing takes. The moments he really loses control are rare, but these are all the more powerful for it. I must confess I was a little dubious before seeing the film about the Welsh accent (and I still do not really understand why that choice was made), but the drama and Hardy’s performance make sure that it is never distracting in any way.
Though we have plenty of claustrophobic and suffocating long takes of Ivan driving along, the camera work not only makes sure that Locke does feel cinematic, but adds a further layer of atmosphere and feeling. Driving along Britain’s motorways at night can be a very lonely and isolated experience, and the long panning shots of rows of headlights, streetlights or city lights only enhance the feeling of loneliness, isolation and even helplessness that Ivan feels as his world is essentially shifting into the unknown ever more with every phone call he makes.
Though I must admit I found Locke so involving I never actually wanted it to end, but of course it has to, and there always in lies a real hurdle for the screenwriter. The conundrum is to decide between complete closure, poignancy, or openness. I of course will not reveal how Locke ends, but after 85 minutes Steven Knight ends the film on pretty much a perfectly appropriate note that maintains the consistent level of engagement that the entire narrative provides and does not leave the viewer feeling short changed.
Proving that through sheer dialogue it is possible to still depict the devastating developments of one man’s life collapsing around him, Locke is a character study that grips from start to finish and is for me essential viewing. With a career best performance from Hardy and another perfectly judged screenplay from Knight, there surely will not be a more engaging character driven drama this year.