VOD film review: Locke
James R | On 11, Aug 2014
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson
The name Ivan Locke is said 53 times in Locke. That’s almost once a minute. But while an hour and a half of Tom Hardy saying the name “Ivan” may not sound like your idea of a perfect night, trust us: it is. Because that’s exactly what Steven Knight’s film is about: one man’s name.
We meet Ivan Locke as he’s driving away from work. Ivan is a construction worker who knows everything there is to know about buildings. It turns out that’s a lot. So why is he going to London when he should be supervising the largest ever non-military deposit of concrete in Europe?
The answer lies with Bethan (Colman), a woman who is having his baby. As he heads to be with her, his wife and kids wait at home to watch the England match with him and his company angrily try to find a replacement supervisor. So Ivan hooks his phone up to the car speakers and starts dialling – one number at a time.
Tom Hardy sitting a car for 85 minutes? It might be a BMW, but it’s a premise that could easily end up running on fumes. Impressively, Locke doesn’t stall once.
Cycling through three calls on a loop, writer-director Steven Knight’s smart script teases out plot details and character beats slowly, never accelerating out of control. How did Ivan and Bethan meet? Will Bethan’s birth go ahead without complications? What will happen to the building?
The supporting ensemble literally phone it in, but in the best way possible: Ruth Wilson’s stern vocals add believable anger to Ivan’s cuckolded spouse; Olivia Colman’s pleading cries ring with sympathy; while Andrew Scott as Ivan’s clueless cider-drinking co-worker Donal lightens the mood with several laughs.
Tom Hardy, though, is the one behind the wheel. He becomes increasingly desperate as Ivan convinces himself he has events under control, mapping out an emotional journey that gives the actor a surprising amount to work with. Steven Knight was once a producer on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which proved how tense a phone call could be – and shares Locke’s fascination with the way in which people portray themselves down the line, changing their voice to adopt a different role for each conversation. Hardy does it all with a Welsh accent you could swim in, full of sexy rolling “r”s and gorgeous guttural vowels.
“Do it for the piece of sky we are stealing!” he cries to Donal. That’s where Knight’s film soars; not in making skyscrapers sound pretty, but constructing a drama that grips more with every exchange. Ivan calls in frantic favours from old friends, constantly dropping his surname – a currency, it turns out, that many are willing to trade. As the spectre of his own absent father looms on the backseat, he lectures on how concrete is like blood, cementing the theme of foundation and identity; this is a blue-collar man at the end of his tether, a man whose legacy is defined by what he does.
“I’m driving,” he says over and over. That’s all there is to it, to everything: a man racing to redeem his reputation. Locke isn’t just experimental; it’s existential. Knight ties it all together with a pulse-tapping score. But there are no explosions, car chases, or even traffic jams. This is character-driven drama, daringly simple and simply daring.