The road has often been used as a metaphor for life, the choices we make. In writer turned director, Stephen Knight’s vehicle we see the same device in play in this largely minimalist piece. In Locke we see the director attempt to milk an extraordinary amount of depth and profundity with utmost constraint as we follow the central character as he appears to veer onto the road not taken.
Locke is set almost entirely in a car save for the first few moments when we see the nominal character enter his BMW to embark on his potentially life-altering trip. This man is Ivan Locke played effectually by Tom Hardy. He sports a brusque full beard and talks with lucidity and precision whilst still sounding like he still has traces of Bane in his intonation.
He is an architectural foreman preparing to oversee the largest concrete pour in Europe and you have no doubt he his damn good at his job. Locke is also a family man. He has been married 15 years to his wife Ruth Wilson and has two sons. His family waits on him as they prepare to watch what sounds like an important game of football. Locke generally comes across as a man in control of his life much like the BMW he sets of in and has almost always steered in the right direction – almost always.
After he sets off, he reaches the what I presume is a familiar T junction and, like he’s probably done a million times before, indicates left. The light goes green, but he doesn’t take off. The truck behind him honks irritatingly but he doesn’t rush, he just sits with a look of deep contemplation on his face as he prepares to divest from his precise way of life. Locke goes right instead, with the full knowledge of the ruin he is leaving behind.
We soon find out that Locke slept with a woman some months before and this lady is about to have a baby. He feels nothing for the woman and he makes that clear to us but he sets out with a deep conviction to be there for his baby; “I will give the baby my name and it will see my face” he says. The question of his decision making is left to those watching. Is he right to walk out on his family? Is it the wisest thing to abandon the biggest and most important job of his career? Why does a man who strikes us as calculating and controlled as he takes the largely self-destructive option?
On his trip in which our director has the camera almost always trained on him save some deviations to capture the night ambiance, Locke retains relative calm except for instances where he bursts out into rants directed at his dead father and maybe some deep part of himself as he glares into the rear and side view mirrors as if looking behind into the past. As he nears his destination, we drop any thoughts of plot contrivance as Knight gives us a solid payoff that buttresses what Locke believes to be an act of true selflessness that may give him some long sought after sanctification.
As much of a one-man show this, the film does well to paint a wholesome picture of other key characters involved in the plot. We never see but only hear the likes of Olivia Colman, Ben Daniels and Ruth Wilson as Locke lets them in and out of his life via car phone. Their arduous audio only portrayals paint a clear picture of the nature of his double predicament. The unseen supporting cast is essential here with tiny details like pauses between words and changes in intonation paint a vivid picture of the situation they are in and allow us some emotional stake in they’re lives. Make no mistake though; Tom Hardy is in the driving seat here in what is easily the most challenging performance of his career in which he delivers a nuanced and compelling performance in this deceptively unassuming film as he goes against his very painstaking nature with a drive of true conviction.
The film is also a real test for director Stephen Knight. It feels like the whole project was a drunken pub bet and he pulls it off in a big way. He works around the physical confinement of the moving car to open us up to the life of the central character and deconstructs his world with the help of the terrific voice-only performances. I felt the alternating visuals between the car interiors were a bit unnecessary but not that much of a bother considering the overall product. I gave this film 5 stars on Letterboxd (although I don’t care much for star ratings) because I do feel it is a genuinely refreshing and compact film that works amply on the excessive control that marks the life of our main character.