Locke Is a Ride You Want to Take

Locke, Tom Hardy, movie, review

Chances are, if you’re taking the time to read this, you’ve already made up your mind about whether or not you’ll see a movie in which nothing happens other than a man gets in his car, drives all night (which is what Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive sounded like it would be about, but don’t confuse it with Roy Orbison) and talks on the phone (relax, he has Bluetooth). Truly. That’s what it’s about and that’s all that happens. Or is it?

All of that might not seem even noteworthy if we were talking about a play, in fact I can well imagine someone picking up the script for writer/director Steven Knight’s Locke and deciding to mount a stage production (especially given that film seems to be the most fertile field from which the theater is now harvesting ideas), but for Knight and Tom Hardy to do what they do in a movie is a feat of daring.

It’s even difficult to talk about Locke without spoiling it. But on the off chance that you are still on the fence (or worse, haven’t heard of it), how else do I (or anyone) get you to see this film? I can tell you that you need invest less than an hour and a half of your time, which is true. I know you can think of at least five films that were a lot longer and were totally unworthy of your time and attention, not to mention your ducats. (I’ll bet Adam Sandler’s name appears on your list at least once, am I right?)

I can tell you that if you don’t see it you’ll be missing out on a singular bit of film making with a tour de force performance by Hardy – which is also true and I am far from the first person to use that phrase. If all you know of Tom Hardy is either Eames from Inception or Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, then it’s time you were introduced to a different side of the man. The part of Ivan Locke was written for him* and it is one of those roles and performances that, after one has seen it, one will never be able to imagine anyone else doing it. If he weren’t so utterly engrossing, it would be difficult to forget that all we’re doing is watching someone steer a car.

The journey begins when Locke, a Welsh construction foreman, gets in that car at the end of another day on a building site.  Before we know anything else about him, we know that he’s just made a conscious choice to turn right instead of left. It is over the course the film that we learn why that was such a momentous decision. It starts with the first phone call. Ivan’s wife and two sons are expecting him home to watch a big football match on television. He’s promised his boys he’ll be there and when Locke informs them he won’t be back in time, we know he’s not in the habit of breaking promises to his children.

Nor is he in the habit of letting down his employers. The next day, a day on which he will not show up for work, he is due to supervise a major concrete pour, a job on which a lot of money, as well as  the structural dependability of a tall building, is riding.

So what could possibly cause this usually solid and conscientious man to suddenly abandon his responsibilities?

He made a mistake. One very costly mistake.

About eight months before this night, Ivan had a brief encounter with a woman named Bethan (Olivia Coleman – heard, but not seen).  He barely knows Bethan, as he matter-of-factly informs his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson), but she’s pregnant and he’s “the cause”. Upstanding Ivan has decided that regardless of the circumstances in which the child was conceived, it is his responsibility to be there for his or her birth.

Of course, once all of this is out in the open, the next eighty minutes are spent dealing with the fallout. Because he’s got it settled in his mind, he expects his wife to accept this bombshell as well.  He’s more worried about the concrete and having to leave the details to an underling (who drinks). It becomes clear to us why this is so difficult for him during a particular speech in which he rhapsodizes the properties and capabilities of good cement.

Ivan is determined to see the job through, and his determination keeps him calm as he talks the increasingly worked-up Donal (Andrew Scott “Sherlock”) through the steps he must take to ensure that everything goes as planned.

Ivan Locke is a soft-spoken man, and that is meant in every sense of the term, but he’s also a man with an excessive, perhaps even obsessive, need for control. It is obvious that Locke believes that doing the right thing is all. When he tells his son, “I’ll fix it and it’ll all go back to normal,” we are concerned that he might be coming unglued and are holding our breath waiting for the explosion.
While we feel his desperation and watch Ivan’s world crumble, Hardy’s voice never wavers, the Welsh cadences becoming almost hypnotic as he issues instructions and provides information to the people closest to him, including his boss Gareth (Ben Daniels “Law & Order: UK”) and his family, whose world he has just blown to pieces. He’s trying to keep steady the delicate balance of his life, with construction on one side of the scale and destruction on the other.We see it by watching Hardy’s face.

Locke never loses control until he’s addressing his father. We know the father isn’t in the car, but is he absent or invisible in Ivan’s life? I think these scenes have been misunderstood. They are not a misstep by Knight, providing too much backstory, as some have asserted. When Ivan looks in the rearview mirror, we see his own reflection. What Ivan sees is his father, something it becomes more and more apparent he wants to avoid becoming. This is, in fact, why he’s on this road on this particular night.

We only see Hardy, but while he (and therefore we) listen to various voices over the phone, we are able to picture so much of Ivan’s world, including the family life that proves to be so fragile, the people with whom he works that had heretofore seemed to hold his competence in such high regard, even Bethan’s lonely existence. (Her repeated requests for him to say that he loves her, along with his refusal because they “hardly know each other,” is heart breaking.)

Steven Knight, who has only one other feature to his credit as director, the Jason Statham starrer Redemption (aka Hummingbird), which made nary a blip on the radar in this country (I liked it. It had problems, but Knight got an actual performance out of Statham – something the great Taylor Hackford couldn’t do with Parker), manages to dial up the stress by careful degrees. I wanted to smash that damn Bluetooth and its automated call-waiting voice. I’m sure Ivan did too, deep down.  Knight also knows when a respite is needed, injecting a bit of humor here and there, like Donal’s description of the Serbian road-gang and the city councilor who doesn’t want to be bothered because he’s “in an Indian restaurant!”

Improbably, this movie about a man in his car becomes a roller coaster of ups and downs so that when some good news finally comes, we don’t trust it and continue to hang onto that breath we’ve been holding.

What we see takes place almost in “real-time”, just not in one continuous take. There was some very clever editing involved. They filmed this eighty-five minute movie sixteen times over the course of seven nights, which by movie-making standards is the equivalent of a nanosecond. Technically, it is still a movie, but this is practically guerrilla filmmaking.
At one point Hardy claimed that he had no idea what his lines were going to be before he said them and simply read them from cue cards. Given his performance (and that Knight wrote those lines specifically for him), that’s difficult to believe. It’s doubly so when you factor in Hardy’s growing reputation for having a laugh at the expense of the press. One recent prank involved a remark uttered to one unsuspecting journo, which was then, of course, picked up to boomerang all over the web, that despite the fact that he’d recently been hired to play Sir Elton John in a new biopic, he couldn’t “carry a tune to save {his} life”. The producers were quick to quash that one. Brits (and Celts) are a cheeky lot.
Ivan’s belief that he can make everything all right again reminded me a lot of Maggie at the end of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. It will be true because he’ll make it true through sheer determination and force of will.  There are those that think that the film doesn’t have a lot to say, other than to deliver the terrible news that a single bad choice can ruin your life. But the film is not just a cautionary tale about the dangers of one night stands. Because while it is true that at the end of the ninety minutes it appears that Ivan has lost all of the things he started with…job, family, professional respect…he has retained his self-respect, which is even more valuable to him… and he has hope. And hope is everything.


*Bit of trivia: on Ivan’s car we see very clearly a sticker for “Help for Heroes“, a UK military charity that provides assistance to wounded British veterans. It’s an organization near and dear to Tom Hardy’s heart.

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