Taking place almost in real-time and set in no location other than the vehicle of its title character, Steven Knight’s Locke is an actor’s showcase for the always-riveting Tom Hardy and the actor delivers in ways that fans of his work would expect from such a juicy role. Hardy takes an incredibly difficult assignment in that he’s the only face seen for 85 minutes, but he gets so deep under the skin of this complex character that he elevates a script that can sometimes feel like a narrative cheat.
Locke takes place on the most important day of Ivan Locke’s life. It is the day when he will make a decision to defy the pattern of his absentee father and do what he thinks is the right thing. However, in doing so, he will tear down the rest of his life like a crack in the concrete foundation of a building. Ivan Locke is a Construction Director outside of London who has the assignment of his career the next morning. They will pour more concrete than any other skyscraper foundation in the history of England outside of the military. He’s in charge of it. He knows the details, he has the connections, and he’s put everything in place. And he’s about to leave it all behind.
Instead of turning to go home, where his sons are excited to watch the football game with him and they’ve bought his favorite beer and sausages, he turns the other way and begins a nearly-real-time drive to London. Along the way, he makes some calls. One call is to his employee Donal (voice of Andrew Scott), conveying the bad news that the young man who is clearly not ready for a leadership position is about to be thrust into one by Ivan’s absence. One call is to his boss Gareth (voice of Ben Daniels), who understandably loses his mind, calls his employers in Chicago, and informs Mr. Locke that he’s fired, even factoring in his ten years of flawless experience. Locke promises to help Donal through the pour that night and the next morning even though he knows he’s lost any financial reason to do so. He wants that building up. He wants to “steal the air.”
The most important calls Locke makes on the trip are to Bethan (Olivia Colman) and Katrina (Ruth Wilson). Katrina is Ivan’s wife and the mother of their two boys. Bethan is a woman that Ivan describes as lonely and odd but she was there that night seven months ago when Locke’s company had just finished a major job, and she downed two bottles of wine, and, well…This night, the night before Locke’s biggest career success, Bethan’s water breaks two months early. He wanted to set things straight, to tell his wife, to fix the broken foundation, but the baby is early and so he must go to London to be there, like his father never was.
As you might imagine, the symbolism inherent in Locke’s profession are pounded a few times in Knight’s script. He pours foundations for a living and he believes that he needs to give his new child the foundation he never had because he didn’t know his father. Like a concrete pour that needs adjusting, it’s his fault that this child will enter the world and he wants to correct that fact. In doing so, he risks losing his family and his job, leaving him with nothing but a vehicle headed to the labor of a woman he doesn’t seem to really even like much. But he thinks it’s the right thing to do.
Knight does avoid turning Locke’s quest into an overly righteous one. There’s a gray area as to whether or not he’s making the right decision. He made a horrendous mistake in his one-night affair but now his desire to correct that right this second is going to tear his life apart. Is that the right decision now? I did sometimes feel like the structure of Locke was a bit of a cheat, playing games with time, travel, and whether or not anyone would really take this kind of soul-baring trip. When Donal asks him why he didn’t just say he was sick for the pour the next morning, audiences are likely to nod in agreement. And one has to believe that Locke is the kind of man who would break this news to his family on the phone and not just drive 90 minutes to the birth to correct one wrong and then turn around and drive 90 minutes the other way to deal with the fallout. The structure often felt like a trick, reminding me that I was watching a movie.
However, I was watching a movie with Tom Hardy in every frame. Those of you who thought he was hidden by The Dark Knight Rises will love seeing every expression and hearing his remarkably-enunciated dialogue. With a perfect Russian accent, he hits every syllable. And he makes incredibly smart decisions as an actor, especially in scenes when he “talks” to his absent father in the back seat. That’s when Locke really becomes something more than a movie. It becomes a film about a man who made one bad decision and may be making more because of the failure of the choices made by the man who couldn’t be his father. Hardy gets vulnerable in ways that are unique even for him. Even when we think we’ve seen his best, he finds another gear.