Here’s a challenge: make a movie that is shot entirely inside a car, with only one character on screen, having a series of phone conversations, and keep it from being tedious. Not only that, but make it gripping and suspenseful, even though it has nothing to do with crime, but instead what is at stake is a marriage and the pouring of concrete at a construction site.
That is what Steven Knight has done with Locke, which transcends its gimmick to be one of the best films of the year. Of course, Knight had an ace in the hole, with his main actor being Tom Hardy, who without leaving his car seat gives a commanding and heart-breaking performance.
Hardy is the title character, a construction foreman. The movie begins with him starting up his BMW, turning on his Bluetooth (the mind reels at what this character would have done before the invention of the mobile phone). He has made a decision, and deals with it in a series of phone calls. It soon becomes known that he has, during a one-night affair, impregnated a woman, and despite missing a key moment in a major construction project, he will drive from Birmingham to London to be there when the woman gives birth.
As he drives, he talks with the mother of his child, a woman described as “fragile,” his wife, to whom he must break the news, his boss, who flips out, and his subordinate, who must take over for him (he will provide the comic relief). Throughout, Hardy, playing a man gifted as a manager, tries to maintain his cool. He is willing to lose his job and his family to do the right thing.
So why not just make this a radio play? Beyond that, Knight has chosen not to show the callers, instead focusing on Hardy. Somehow, with the aid of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, he has made this film visually interesting. The drive is done at night, and the lights reflecting off the windshield, the passing vehicles, the GPS screen, all providing a festival of color and light. The editing, by Justine Wright, excels for being non-obtrusive. I have no recollection of any particular shot lasting for more than thirty seconds, nor of the cuts being too quick.
But as you might imagine, Hardy is the pillar of this film. His character is a man of conviction, and has made a decision and is ready to live with the consequences. It’s unusual for a film to be built around a man’s integrity, but Locke is just such a movie, and it’s kind of refreshing. I do wonder, though, just what kind of accent Hardy is using. It’s not precisely English, Scottish, or Irish. If anyone from the UK reads this, maybe they know. Welsh?