Locke is a gimmick film. The entire movie takes place inside a car in real time. There is only one visible actor, Tom Hardy, who plays the titular Ivan Locke. The rest of the performances are voices we hear in the speaker phone as Ivan makes various calls. This, like most other films that tend to lean heavy on a particular gimick, sounds boring. It should be boring. Any yet, Locke was one of the most enthralling experiences I’ve had at the movies this year.
The reasons for this is complicated, but I believe they all start with the script. Locke is a tightly written movie with a strong central character and small story. Without spoiling too much, Ivan Locke has a problem. He made one bad mistake a year ago and is now experiencing the fallout of this decision. To deal with this problem, Locke has made a choice. A choice that he feels he has to make, but which could possibly destroy the rest of his life. The choice requires Locke to take the one hour and thirty minute drive to London tonight, abandoning his job as a construction foreman on the night of the “biggest concrete pour in the history of Europe”*. Abandoning his children on the night of a big football match. And abandoning his confused wife who cannot understand what her husband is doing or why. The film is Locke’s journey to London as his life crashes down around him as a result of this choice.
The key to the movie is that these stakes are intentionally low and that Locke as a character is so relate-able. Locke is not racing against time to prevent a some catastrophic event. He’s not in a life or death situation. He’s just a good man, who made one bad decision and is trying to fix it. And Locke is a good man. The movie takes its time to make sure we understand this. Locke is a calculating, thoughtful, caring, individual who is damn good at his job. He loves his wife, he loves his children, and he loves his job. He speaks in deep, flowery prose about the beauty of concrete and of buildings (Language that real people don’t actually use, but never-the-less feels right at home coming from Locke). Indeed, he makes the job of a construction foreman sound like art:
“Do it for the piece of sky we are stealing with our building. You do it for the air that will be displaced, and most of all, you do it for the fucking concrete. Because it is delicate as blood.”
I might have never personally made the same mistake that Locke did, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t see myself making it. And more importantly, I understand the choice he decided to make; his desire to do the right thing, despite all the consequences. Locke is a tragic tale, but its one that could happen to any one of us. It’s that feeling that pulls you into the story. What would you do in this situation?
In a movie that demands everything out of it’s lead role, Tom Hardy is incredible. Hardy has to run the gambit of emotions and do it all in a confined space with limited range of motion. Much has to be conveyed simply with facial expressions and tone and Hardy pulls this off wonderfully. As mentioned earlier, Locke speaks in flowery, poetic prose much of the time, especially when talking about the importance of concrete and his building. This never feels forced or out of place. With a lessor actor this film would have crashed and burned, but Hardy’s chops gladly carry the weight.
The camera work is simple, but effective. We’re trapped inside the car with Locke for the majority of the movie with mostly stationary angles. We see Locke straight on as he talks on the phone, but as his life comes crashing down the camera will suddenly snap to a behind the seat view, and see Locke’s eyes in the rear view mirror. We see his reflection as he does. We experience the change in his life as he is experiencing it. In previous conversations I had about this movie, I mentioned that I thought it would make a good stage play. After re-watching it, I no longer think that. The camera work is so important to the film. I don’t think the gravitas of the performance would lend itself to a stage.
Locke is a small movie, but a powerful one. Like the buildings that Ivan has worked so hard to ensure stand tall and “steal the sky”, we all work so hard to construct our lives the way we want them to be, taking calculated moves to ensure everything will stand up to strain. Life though, like buildings, is unforgiving:
“You make one mistake, Donal, one little fucking mistake, and the whole world comes crashing down around you.”
Locke is currently available on Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Blu Ray, and most other VOD rental platforms.
*For those of you who knew nothing about construction, like me: the movie very explicitly explains how important this concrete pour is. How if something is off by just a fraction of a degree, the entire building could come crashing down. Ivan Locke missing this pour is a huge deal. Its also, like, a metaphor.