Cast: Tom Hardy, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Tom Holland, Ben Daniels, Olivia Colman
One of the hardest things to do in film is to make car scenes interesting to watch. There’s nothing quite so mundane and static as a person sitting in a car, trying to have a meaningful conversation with another person when they are restricted in their movements and the length of time they can make eye contact with any other person. Tarantino probably filmed one of the best car scenes in cinema history in Pulp Fiction, but good car scenes are difficult to come by. Steven Knight, however, set the entirety of Locke in the confines of a car, with only the man behind the wheel making a number of phone calls that progressively unravel his life. And it is never boring, never static, never for a moment do you lose interest in this man, Ivan Locke, a mere concrete farmer and family man. Steven Knight has done an entire movie set where most directors hesitate to set a scene, and it is glorious.
Ivan Locke gets into his car after work at a concrete plant and begins driving south to London. This is not where he lives nor is it where he had planned on going, but it turns out that a woman he had a one night stand with is having his child and went into premature labor. Now as he drives to the hospital in London he has to make a number of phone calls explaining himself to his wife and his boss, all while managing an important concrete pour and reassuring the distressed mother of his child. Phone call after phone call slowly unravels the previously stable elements of his life, throwing certainty into chaos, and cracking the stone-like composure of the eerily calm Locke. Now he can only try to salvage what’s left of his life, one phone call at a time.
A lot of credit goes to Tom Hardy, who as Ivan Locke carries this one man show effortlessly. He possesses an uncanny calm that bewilders and unsettles the audience. We are almost not surprised when he begins to occasionally talk to an invisible other in the back seat, but are startled by it all the same. Locke is an extremely practical man who thinks that he can fix all his problems through practical problem solving, but he does not properly account for the emotional reactions of the variables in his equation, perhaps including his own. The voice cast that make up the various numbers in Locke’s phone book are also stellar and count a lot toward the intensity of the film. Olivia Colman is a constant wonder in whatever she does, both delightfully funny and heart-breakingly tragic, and stands out as the distressed mother Bethan. The great Andrew Scott as Locke’s overwhelmed co-worker Donal is a great source of comic relief in a sea of bad news. No matter what issues Donal adds to Locke’s growing pile, he is such a character that we start to look forward to his phone calls.
Steven Knight not only keeps things visually interesting through his uncomplicated, minimalist directing, but has written a compelling and suspenseful script that keeps the audience engaged. As Locke’s life disintegrates, the phone calls he makes and receives become dreaded beacons of hope. Every phone call has the potential to either make things better or to plunge Locke further into darkness. We start to get frustrated with the ringing of the phone, fearing what news the next messenger will bring, and dread the consequences when he misses one waiting call to finish another. Steven Knight seems to have a knack for stories involving failure and redemption. Previously he was perhaps best known for his screenplay for David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, a dark and violent crime thriller involving the secret life of a chauffeur for the Russian mafia. He also recently wrote and directed a movie which in the US is actually called Redemption (UK title is Hummingbird) featuring Jason Statham as a man out to salvage his life and pay for his sins. Locke fits right into this oeuvre. While it is much less violent than his previous scripts, it is just as dark and centers around a man on the brink of what amounts to life and death. Locke is by far Knight’s most interesting venture so far and I’m looking forward to what springs next from Knight’s mind onto the screen.