The Daily Stream: 'Locke' is 85 Minutes of Tom Hardy Alone in a Car, and It is a Transformative Experience
(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Locke
Where You Can Stream It: Kanopy and Hoopla
The Pitch: 85 minutes of Tom Hardy with a Welsh accent driving through English highways in a BMW while on the phone. That’s the misleading, just-the-facts logline that probably led some to assume that this movie would be either unbearably pretentious, an unmitigated bore, or both. Instead, patient viewers in the mood for an evocative and deeply human story are treated to a deliberately-paced, one-location drama that unfolds like a theater play.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: With the camera locked inside and around the car from around the minute-and-a-half mark onwards, this self-imposed and sneakily suffocating restriction wouldn’t seem to provide much opportunity for writer/director Steven Knight (Allied, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Peaky Blinders) to tell this tale with any real flair or personality. But much like the premise itself, looks can be mightily deceiving. Oh, and be sure to keep an ear out for some familiar-sounding voice roles that are too fun to spoil here.
The pressing question at the center of this movie revolves around Ivan Locke, a construction foreman working the biggest job of his life who suddenly walks off the site and drives off into the distance to locations unknown. By abandoning his crew and, as we soon discover, his family, we’re left to wonder why. Why would anyone — let alone this inscrutable, yet impressively capable man we’re stuck in the car with — so spectacularly self-destruct their own career, their home, and even their life like this?
The rest of the film plays out under the lonesome, sickly-colored lights of various highways in an exercise that puts our perception to the test. Alternating between Locke putting out fires among his construction team as they scramble to deal with his absence and his attempts to explain himself to his uncomprehending wife and son, these speaker phone conversations prove to be far more gripping than you might assume. Like an unnoticed onlooker to a slow motion car crash, we’re privy to hearing the pained and oftentimes confused responses on the other end of the line…but all we ever see is Tom Hardy’s impeccably nuanced facial reactions, observing his resolve ebbing and flowing between stubborn conviction and heartbreaking helplessness. This comes into particularly sharp relief when Locke begins having monologues with himself as well as voices from his past, making the claustrophobic car feel even smaller and more constrained.
Stripped down to the barest essentials of a narrative, it’s almost as if the human drama surges into the void and compensates for any of the distractions we’re normally used to.
Locke is essentially about an imperfect man caught between impossible forces tugging him in wildly different directions: loyalty, honor, and responsibility. He’s made mistakes in his past — he knows he might be making another one right now! — but what if the road to redemption requires making even more costly sacrifices along the way? This isn’t a heightened world with matters of life or death hanging in the balance. On the contrary, Locke finds himself in the midst of an almost maddeningly ordinary situation; one that nonetheless requires a life-changing choice. And that’s precisely what makes the stakes of this small, self-contained story feel so unimaginably large.
The slow reveal as to where he’s driving off to and why is a payoff that suddenly snaps the previous hour of the film into focus. You might not ultimately agree with his choices, but you can at least understand them in a certain way. By the time the film’s destination is in sight, the full weight of this emotional journey comes crashing down. There’s no going back, one way or another, and Locke is an undeniably different person than he was when he first got into the car.
Other than the possible exception of Hardy’s sometimes flowery dialogue (who, by the way, has never been better than he is here) and the pulsing soundtrack, Locke isn’t flashy or attention-grabbing in any conventional sense. All we have is a man, a car, and his voice to keep us company as we’re taken on a ride through a character’s personal dark night of the soul. This film has a way of sticking with you, to the point that you may never look at a lonely drive in the middle of the night the same way again. As it turns out, we’re all just one car ride away from going from who we are now to who we might become.
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