On the face of it Locke may sound like a gimmick. A film which solely takes place in the interior of a car and focuses on one man’s journey as he travels from Birmingham to London inevitably is an experiment in form. But it wouldn’t be wise to simply dismiss it this way, nor can you describe it as a glorified radio play despite it being composed of phone conversations where the participant is naturally off camera. It works as a film because of Tom Hardy’s riveting use of gestures and subtle movements to slowly reveal his portrait of an everyman whose carefully controlled world threatens to crumble around him.
I’m not going to talk much about the film’s plot because it is the combination of that and the character of Ivan Locke which drives the entire film forward. There is nothing superfluous in this script to distract us from the forward progression of the story as we are simply trapped in this car with this one character as he goes about his journey in what’s close to real time. One of the great strengths of the film is the way in which the well constructed script continuously raises the stakes in a believable, emotionally grounded and structured way. No matter how good its leading man’s performance is the film is almost expected to struggle a little. To have slight lulls in the audience’s engagement with such a film seems almost inevitable however impressively this never happens; it never looses that initial spark and it perfectly judges how to raise the stakes enough to keep you riveted without slipping into misguided melodrama.
The other particularly notable element of the film is of course the performances. Those which are provided by the supporting cast over the phone are all nicely played but it is on Tom Hardy’s face where the emotional battleground is fought. We learn a certain amount by what the characters say to him but the nature of the relationships is communicated to us by how Locke reacts to each character. Hardy subtly adapts his body language and small gestures and tics to each character, silently communicating a lifetime’s worth of resentments, shared memories and pain. On top of this work Hardy also impresses when he has to occasionally talk to himself and vocalise his fears and thoughts in what is perhaps the film’s most contrived moments. It’s not badly written and Hardy does well with it but it does feel a little bit as if the scriptwriter couldn’t find a way to work it into his dialogue with the other characters, and that’s a shame.
Despite that slight criticism this is a very strong and extremely engaging piece of work which rises above its acting showcase trappings to become a meditative study of masculinity, family and 21st century values. It’s a film of great subtlety that isn’t afraid to take its time with its plot and to trust its audience with a character who is gradually revealed over the full 85 minute running time. It may seem a daunting film to sit down and watch, but it really isn’t. The one location quickly feels natural and you forget about it soon enough when you become gripped by Hardy’s beautifully controlled and emotionally resonant performance.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Tom Hardy’s riveting performance.
Its greatest weakness? The occasional moments where Locke talks to himself.
Would I see it again? Absolutely. It’s not a film you will watch regularly but its good enough that I’ll have to return to it at some point.
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