“I will do what has to be done.” This is Ivan Locke’s mantra and he lives it to the fullest…all within the confines of his fully-loaded BMW. I thought I was queen of multi-tasking until I saw “Locke,” and realized I am a mere piker in comparison. I joke, but in reality, “Locke,” written and directed by Steven Knight, with its cast of one on-screen actor, Tom Hardy, is a master class in acting and storytelling. With just one man, car phone, highway and lights, you know what is happening every step of the way.
Set in England, “Locke” opens as a man walks away from a Birmingham construction site, opens his BMW car door, takes off some of his work gear, slides into his seat, begins to drive to London, and then, most importantly, initiates the first of his long series of phone calls. From a variety of phone conversations, we learn that Bethan, a woman he met while on an out-of-town job and with whom he had a one night stand, resulted in a pregnancy. Although happily married with a family, he promised her that he would be there for her when the baby came and she is now in the hospital waiting to give birth. The timing of the delivery is not great, as one of the biggest jobs of his career is to begin the next morning. He first breaks the news to his boss that an emergency will preclude him from making it to the site for at least a day. He is immediately fired, but continues to work via phone with Donal, a member of his team, to make sure he will be ready in his stead come morning, and that the job will go off without a hitch. He carries on several phone conversations with Bethan, reassuring her that he is on his way to the hospital. He has a variety of phone calls with his sons about a soccer match. Finally, there is his wife, Katrina, who has absolutely no idea of what she is about to hear when she answers his call. The exchange is not pleasant and the hurt is palpable. Through all of these calls and his imaginary conversation with his deceased father, the camera is always on Locke. The change in his voice and facial expression varies, depending upon who is on the other end of the call. Most of the calls have serious elements to them, so the conversations with Donal, as they become more lighthearted, are a welcome relief.
The supporting cast…the voices we hear on the other end of the phone…are very good and help give the movie some depth. The vocal characterizations by Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Tom Holland and Bill Milner are especially outstanding. In their own way, they each provide Hardy with someone with whom he can react.
However, this movie belongs to Hardy. It can’t be overstated how terrific he is. In a very confined space, Hardy has to hold the audience’s attention and somehow he manages to do it. It’s as though Hardy has taken to heart Locke’s “I will do what has to be done.” The tears his character sheds ever so slightly when on calls with his wife feel very real. And the way his face lights up when talking to his sons or solving a problem with Donal makes you believe that he is not alone on the screen. It’s absolutely amazing.
Yes, one could quibble with the fact that what Locke is doing while driving is not exactly practicing safe driving, and should not be encouraged. But as Locke advises, “You have to be solid,” and solid he is. So is this movie.