Locke

August 30, 2014
Tom Hardy in 'Locke' (2013)
Tom Hardy in 'Locke' (2013)

If it were a musical composition, Locke might be described as a chamber piece. The action does not take place in a room, but in a car speeding down the expressway towards London in the middle of the night – with every impression being filtered through the character of the man behind the wheel, Ivan Locke.

Tom Hardy’s Locke is as lonely as one of Beckett’s anti-heroes, holding out against a world in which everything is sliding into chaos. The difference is that he is intent on winning the battle by resolving two gigantic, life-changing problems that loomed up the moment he sat down in the driver’s seat.

Director, Steven Knight, better known as a scriptwriter, has given us the first-ever movie in which the entire story is told by car phone. How’s that for an exciting tag line? By eavesdropping on Locke’s conversations we learn that he is an engineer in charge of a “historically large” concrete pour due to take place the following morning. The reason he is in his car heading towards London is that he has received a call from a woman who is having his baby that very night. This woman, Bethan, is not his wife. She is a lonely 43-year old, with whom he had a one-night stand while on a job in Croydon.

The premature arrival of the baby has forced Locke to make some unpalatable decisions. He will have to abandon the most important day of his working life, knowing that it will probably cost him his job. He will have to tell his wife, Katrina, and his two sons, that he won’t be home tonight to watch the football match. Worst of of all, he’ll have to tell Katrina about the affair and the baby.

During a tense 85 minutes, he speaks with his boss, Gareth; his unstable underling, Donal, who is now obliged to take responsibility for the concrete pour; his increasingly distraught wife and sons; and Bethan, who is struggling with pain and confusion, as she waits for him to arrive. When he’s not on the phone, Locke is conducting a one-way conversation with his late father, whom he despises.

As the drama builds, we feel we are sitting in the passenger seat alongside with the driver, trying to cope with each new development; wincing each time the phone rings.

All the time we are conscious that Locke is in a vehicle speeding down a highway, liable to pay heavily for any lapse in concentration. He quaffs cough medicine, looks out at the lights and the traffic with blurred vision, but keeps moving towards his goal. He knows that by the time he steps out of the car he may no longer have a job or a family, and be father to a child he never wanted. It’s nervous breakdown territory, but Locke is a man who prides himself on his calmness, his firmness, and powers of organisation. He is going to see this through, to prove to himself and his dead father that he is man who doesn’t shirk responsibility.

Hardy is the only character we see, with the other actors being merely voices on the telephone. Unfortunately I couldn’t help remembering Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan doing impersonations of him in The Trip to Italy, which tended to undermine the mounting tension of the story. That, however, has no bearing on his performance in Locke, which is a concentrated study in multi-tasking – namely, keeping your eyes on the road while your world falls apart. It is the portrait of a man determined to finish what he has begun, be it the biggest commercial concrete pour in Europe or the devastation of his own orderly domestic life. We watch and wait, feeling that a crash of some sort is unavoidable.

Locke
Written & directed by Steven Knight
Starring Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner
UK/USA, rated MA 15+, 85 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 30th August, 2014.

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