British filmmaker Steven Knight made waves in 2007 with his screenplay for the crime thriller Eastern Promises. His latest offering and second attempt at the director’s chair is the minimalistic Locke. And I mean minimalistic. The only face seen for the film’s 84 minutes is that of Tom Hardy (Bronson, The Dark Knight Rises), who delivers yet another staggering performance as the film’s titular character, Ivan Locke. The camera never leaves Locke’s side as he drives to a hospital in London, a drive during which his entire life comes undone. The suspense is palpable (enough) and the story encourages curiosity as to Locke’s fate, but if your attention span could be characterized as “modern,” this may not be the film for you.
Although everything in this paragraph is revealed early in the film, skip it if you’d rather avoid plot details. On the eve of his construction company’s biggest job ever, foreman Ivan Locke – married with two children – receives a call from a former co-worker, Bethan. Her water has broken, and the child is Locke’s. It comes to light that he has known of her pregnancy for nearly 7 months, but the child is now coming prematurely. Over the course of the 80 minute drive, Locke deals with his situation through a series of hands-free phone calls (imagine Phone Booth, but not awful) with his wife, children, bosses, colleagues, and more. In essence, it is an 84 minute segment of the worst night of a man’s life.
The story is a poignant one, with much to say about responsibility, conscience, and parenthood. Although employing phone conversations as its means of exposition may seem gimmicky, the method succeeds in grounding the film in reality. The situation feels very possible because it is not overblown with action or dramatics. However, there are moments during which Locke “sees” and addresses his father in his backseat that are unfortunately misguided. While they are redeemed by Hardy’s impactful line delivery, and slightly necessary in exposing Locke himself as a bastard child, they paint Locke with a useless coat of psychosis that would have been better done without.
Steven Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (Thor) do a great job with the film’s look and atmosphere. Together they perfectly achieve the blurry malaise of a nighttime drive. Oncoming headights run together, reds and greens flash and reflect, and Locke is only ever lit by the streetlights rushing by overhead. Transitions between shots are often slow-fades, adding to the overall dreariness of the film’s aesthetic and tone.
Locke’s central focus is undeniably on performance. Not only does Hardy nail another difficult role (as villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, he didn’t even need two-thirds of his face to be impressive), both Andrew Scott and Ruth Wilson deliver powerful vocal performances as colleague Donal and wife Katrina, respectively. Foregrounding performance is one of the film’s many postmodern aspects, along with its Beckettian ending – at one point, Bethan even mentions she feels as if she’s “Waiting for Godot” – and singular setting. It’s so postmodern in fact, that it may even be better suited for the stage than the screen.
There is a lot right with Locke – the aesthetic, exposition, performances – and I certainly applaud its experimental method of storytelling, but it does fall short in certain aspects – Locke’s bouts of psychosis are regrettable, and the ending may be a little too Godot-like. It is by no means an easy film, either, and is certainly aimed toward a more subtle, artisanal crowd. In turn, I highly recommend it, but not to everyone.