A man drives alone in a car with a telephone. At first glance there’s deceptively little to Locke (2013), the sophomore feature from director Steven Knight. We’re with Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) on the night before he’s due to oversee the concrete pour of a massive new construction site. Risking the project, his career and his family, Ivan is driving south to be present when a woman he barely knows gives birth to their child. During the journey, Ivan makes and receives phone calls from many: his colleague, Donal (Andrew Scott); his boss, Gareth (Ben Daniels); his wife, Katrina (Ruth Wilson); his sons, Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Milner); and Bethan (Olivia Colman), the woman to whose side he is rushing.
In contrast to David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012) (for whom Knight wrote the screenplay for 2007’s Eastern Promises), another film about a man facing fantastic loss during a car ride, Locke is not a drama overflowing with the abstract. It’s not a talkie where characters discuss economic theory. It’s a work of emotions rather than ideas, though there are plenty of questions being asked both by the characters and implicitly by the film. Ivan wrestles with questions about himself and his relationships. Is he doing the right thing? Is it worth risking the family he has for the family he didn’t want? Even as he scrambles to ensure that things remain on track at the building site and at home, is he deluding himself that things might work out? Knight’s latest doesn’t offer many answers, and neither should it.
All that really matters is that our man has made his decision and is doing his best to manage the consequences. Knight’s ability to deftly manage the flow of a real drama (not quite in real-time, but very close to it; a football match taking place simultaneously to the journey provides occasional markers for how much time is passing) from a single location is exceptional and, together with Hardy, Knight has created one of the best characters of the year in Ivan. Even when delivering monologues at an empty backseat to a long-dead absent father, Hardy gives a wonderful performance marked by a calmness and stoicism which is not often conducive to gripping cinema but here works wonders. Locke is an unusual piece. It was even a minor UK box office success during its theatrical run, showing that audiences are willing to embrace the unorthodox on occasion. Locke is a film worth taking a risk on.
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