What’s to say about a film that’s pretty much perfect? Except, “See it.” And that it’s high time Tom Hardy started receiving the statue love for which he’s so sorely overdue. If his name isn’t on the lists come springtime, it’s some kind of crime.
In a tour de force performance (one of three in his career to date), Hardy rivets our attention as we sit next to one Ivan Locke for a real time 90-minute drive during which the stakes go up and his world comes down.
Always the strongest of actors in any role, Hardy was passed over for two in particular that deserved nomination at the time, specifically "Warrior" and "Bronson". "Warrior" garnered Nick Nolte a well-deserved Oscar nom but didn't grant Hardy the same courtesy as being the equally deserving other half of the pair that occasioned the achievement; "Bronson", however marvelous and a true story, was simply too rough for general consumption and not the kind of material routinely regarded as awards fodder.
Here, however, Hardy might just have his, well… vehicle (sorry, but that’s the word). "Locke" is equal parts drama, suspense, and character study, and revolves around situations that any Everyman could encounter. There are no crafty psychopaths, no superpowers, no aliens, no dazzling special effects. Only a decent man under an extreme amount of pressure.
What is dazzling, however, is Steven Knight’s remarkable script and his execution of it. He begins his story already underway, as Locke gets into his car fully cognizant of the events about to transpire, and clues us in as Locke breaks the news to other interested parties… but as circumstances unfold, we’re brought into Locke’s point of view completely. It’s so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable amid the moving parts, but by journey’s end we’re looking through Locke’s eyes. And quite the place to be it is.
Then there’s Knight’s directorial skill in actually depicting the story. Given a single actor in a single spot throughout (not much costume design going on here), "Locke" could have sunk into boredom or contrivance in avoiding it (there’s a reason it’s called “highway hypnosis”). But through a variety of low-key techniques, Knight infuses motion into every second without undermining the steadily escalating intensity. His astute use of lighting and small touches such as the sniffles or the rolling up of a sleeve give a kinetic feel to an unchanging and perilously one-note environment.
Finally, while the elements ring familiar, their particulars make them unusual, thus they bounce off each other in fresh and engaging combinations.
Ivan Locke is a very good man indeed, not just a middling man content with human frailty, meaning his actions will reach beyond those of the average individual; his career is one that affects us all every day, but it’s not one we customarily think of as being heroic (until it isn’t done well), meaning he approaches this entire situation from a certain underlying heroism; his exceptionally careful approach to life dictates that his responses be considered and resolute, meaning he will pursue his course and deal straightforwardly with whatever pushback (or in fact blowback) that comes with it.
Altogether, "Locke" is one of the most exquisitely handled pieces of cinema since Steve McQueen’s "Shame", and one that demonstrates how much can be conveyed with a glance, with a prop, or with the most offhanded of gestures. Supported by strong offscreen contributions (by Andrew Scott in particular), Knight and Hardy bring us an ordinary man of extraordinary mettle, and a film that can only, and perhaps uniquely, be called a “poignant thriller.”
I’d like now to talk about the next practical step. For me, it’s to go back and catch a couple of unseen Knights. For you, it’s to go see "Locke".
Story: On the eve of the most important day of his career, a conscientious and dedicated man receives a phone call that puts into jeopardy a life he values deeply.
Genre: Drama, Suspense/Thriller
Starring: Tom Hardy (voices Andrew Scott, Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, Ben Daniels, Danny Webb, Tom Holland, Bill Milner)
Directed by: Steven Knight
Running time: 85 minutes
Houston release date: May 9, 2014 at the Landmark River Oaks Theater
Tickets: Check IMDb.com or your local listings
Screened May 7th 2014 at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX