Tom Hardy’s “Locke” Shows Extraordinary Power in Simplicity

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Film Review: “Locke,” written and directed by Steven Knight, 2014

It takes an actor such as Tom Hardy to pull off a film shot almost entirely inside a car, showing him alone, from beginning to end. Ivan Locke (Hardy) is a construction manager in Birmingham, with a reputation for “running a tight ship,” as a local official describes him. One evening, after work, he doesn’t go home. Instead he drives to London, a decision that changes his life within 85 minutes, which is how long the drive and the movie last.

“Locke” doesn’t waste any second. Immediately we learn these things about the protagonist: He’s a happily married man with two sons. His family is expecting him to watch an important soccer game with them at home. He’s in-charge of the concrete pour for one of the biggest construction projects in Europe, a 55-story building, with $100 million at stake. The concrete pour is scheduled to take place the following morning.

Locke sacrifices the soccer game and the concrete pour—in effect, both his family and career— because he wants to do right by a woman who is giving birth to his illegitimate child. There’s an unexpected complication in the pregnancy, and the baby must be delivered by cesarean section. Locke, who is a bastard himself, is determined to own up to his responsibility, unlike his father.

Life-Changing Phone Calls

These facts are revealed through a series of phone calls. You’ll never find another film in which the telephone plays such a crucial “role”! We get to know the other characters by the strength of their voices alone.

Locke’s subordinate, Donal (Andrew Scott), has to perform some critical tasks on Locke’s behalf. He’s freaking out, but he manages to provide a comic relief. One feels the pain of Katrina (Ruth Wilson), Locke’s wife. There’s comfort in the innocence of their two sons.

From Birmingham to London, Locke manages one crisis after another: instructing Donal on what to do; trying to appease his furious boss; revealing and explaining his infidelity to Katrina; and reassuring a frightened Bethan (Olivia Colman), the mother of his bastard.

The unseen characters are so convincing that one even feels sorry for Bethan, who is clearly desperate for a man’s love. The fact that the object of her desperation happens to be Ivan Locke is unfortunate.

You see, Locke is a responsible, loving family man and a hardworking, conscientious manager. He has led an upstanding life. He has been faithful throughout his 15-year marriage, until that fateful night he encountered Bethan. He slept with her because she was lonely and she had nobody. He makes a mistake just once—out of pity—with staggering consequences. One can’t help but sympathize with Locke.

Why “Locke” is Extraordinary

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen enough alpha males and superheroes in countless movies. Tom Hardy has certainly had his share of those tough-guy roles. I’ve endured too many mediocre movies exceeding two hours.

I love “Locke” because for a change, the protagonist is an ordinary working man, who sacrifices everything dear to him to do the right thing. He’s a different kind of hero. We could use more men like Locke.

I love the fact that the film is short and spare. Steven Knight makes every second, every scene, and every line count. Knight, who wrote “Eastern Promises,” can teach a number of overrated Hollywood directors a thing or two about filmmaking. He proves that one doesn’t need to rely on gory fight scenes, CGI-driven plots, and a bloated budget to make a compelling film.

Tom Hardy’s Versatility

Audiences the world over love Tom Hardy for playing physical, macho characters: the über villain Bane (“The Dark Knight Rises,” 2012); the violent moonshiner Forrest Bondurant (“Lawless,” 2012); the slick con man Eames (“Inception,” 2010); the angry cage fighter Tommy Riordan (“Warrior,” 2011); and the vicious prisoner Charles Bronson (“Bronson,” 2008).

It is a testament to Hardy’s versatility as an actor that he successfully makes an about-turn to play an average man in an uncharacteristically quiet film. His self-contained portrayal of Locke is full of nuances, from his Welsh accent to his tempered outbursts to his tenderness toward his sons.

In Hardy’s capable hands, Ivan Locke is unperturbed, pragmatic, and solid as a rock. He remains level-headed even in his explanation of his seemingly irrational decision. “A baby is something that cannot be stopped,” he says matter-of-factly. At one point, he adds: “I have caused this baby.”

“Locke” proves that in filmmaking, there’s extraordinary power in simplicity. A story that relies on a car doesn’t have to involve relentless chases and mind-numbing explosions. Of course it helps if Tom Hardy is driving the car and Steven Knight is directing the course of the journey. If you haven’t seen this film, you simply must watch it. Now.