Even writing about what’s on show in Locke feels like a hard sell, so one can only imagine how difficult it was to pitch. A 90-minute film focussing solely on a man in his car driving from Birmingham to London sounds like a brave solo act that would either make or break a career. That being said, when that man is Tom Hardy, a trip down the motorway becomes one of the best films of 2014 by the time he’s switched the engine off.
Ivan Locke (Hardy) is a high-level building contractor and a good man who has had two bad nights; this evening and one he had seven months previously that has come back to haunt him. Seeing no choice but to accept the consequences of his actions, Ivan gets in his car and hammers it down to Birmingham heading to an uncertain future that could leave both his work and family life in tatters. Between his departure and arrival, our wheelman tries his best to make amends and fix what he can, taking the flak from his co-workers, admitting harsh truths to his wife and mother of his two sons, and counselling the woman he thought was out of his life. It’s a story that could easily go further than the dashboard if it wanted to, but instead director Steve Wright limits Hardy to four doors and a steering wheel and the result is a surprisingly entrancing watch.
Hardy’s take on his character and the scenario he’s in is a brilliant one. Calmly trying to diffuse a trio of bad situations whilst keeping his eyes on the road, Locke’s terrible ordeal is lit up by the eerie amber glow from the streetlights and passing traffic, sucking you in the moment he makes his first (missed) call. It’s a haunting and hypnotic perspective, like some hellish tunnel that our anti-hero is forced to drive through, under the impressive direction of Wright . Inside that car every gesture, every word and thoughtful pause in between is amplified by nothing but the gentle hum and rattle that is his stage on wheels. Locke isn’t really alone of course, he’s guided by phone calls that could all end badly and have an equally impressive bunch of talents on the other line.
As he’s headed down this engrossing road to ruin, Hardy is called by bombshell-dropping Olivia Coleman, Ruth Wilson as his unsuspecting wife and Andrew Scott as his stranded work colleague. Admittedly they deserve a good bit of credit themselves, taking their time on the phone to test Locke and his calming Welsh brogue which never crumbles for a second even when his world starts to.
Flawless as Hardy’s performance may be and no matter how effective the ride is though, there are occasional bumps in the road whenever Ivan stops to talk to his Dad. It might establish a motive to why this drive is even occurring, as a neglected son is determined not to make his father’s mistakes but it doesn’t quite have the same effect as when he’s getting abuse thrown from whoever’s ringing him for an update.
That’s the only fault that can be seen in what is a brave project that reaches its desired destination. Laying a man’s life out on the road that doesn’t depend on explosions or police chases. The only time the law catches up with Ivan is when it’s overtaking him, the rest is focussed on our anti-hero taking his penance on a full can of petrol, making for an emotional and gripping journey. Enjoy the ride.