Writer-director Steven Knight’s Locke is almost more a dramatic or threatrical stunt than a movie: Save a very short introductory bit, the entire film takes place in an SUV as the main character, Ivan Locke, drives the highway toward London. The only other characters featured are those with whom Ivan converses over his car’s Bluetooth telephone connection. It’s a structural gimmick somewhere on a spectrum ranging from risky to downright idiotic—and even after viewing it’s tough to pick a position.
Locke is a successful construction manager facing the single-largest project of his career: the pouring of the cement block for a historically enormous building (the largest nonmilitary- or power-infrastructure-related in Europe, we’re informed). Unfortunately for the project and for Locke, personally, that very same night a woman with whom Locke has had a single extramarital liaison is giving birth to his child, prematurely. We join Locke after he has made the decision to be present at the birth and we watch—or rather, hear—the consequences as this is revealed to his employers, his coworkers and his family in flurry of phone calls.
The decision to film this story, which easily could have been shot in a more conventional way, as a kind of hybrid monologue means that whatever the incidents may be, this is the story of the inner life of Ivan Locke. It is, as is pointed out none too subtly, the story of what this man is made of, of his foundation. Yes, it’s that on-the-nose. Locke is obsessive about the project management of his job; not just this job, we’re made to understand, but all the jobs he has performed. He is exceptionally thorough and almost fantastically calm in the face of possible catastrophe. He’s a kind of Jedi of C6 concrete.
Why is he so monomaniacal? Well, there’s the superficial reality of a skyscraper’s construction: The foundation is everything. But there is, also, of course a psychic trauma, a defining hurt, for which that reality is a metaphor. In between phone calls, Locke talks to himself and unpacks this baggage for the viewer, slowly revealing the source of his stoic competence—and overcompensation.
For my tastes, the script was a bit too tidy in that respect. It had the feel of a short story graduate-workshopped into a high shine. Psychologically, the pieces fit a bit too tightly, with none of the inevitable lurch and grind and mystery and chaos that go into personality formation. That being said, what Tom Hardy did with Locke, as written, is tremendous. He packs into this cramped and precise piece an implication of constrained range, of complexity restrained by sheer force of will. All the unseen, unknown minutiae of laying a skyscraper’s base, all the detail of concrete and rebar, of permits and road closures, that are invisible to those who will occupy it, Hardy’s Locke has matched in his compressed psyche.
This is not my favorite Hardy performance—that’s probably the wholly unrestrained and delightful Bronson. But Hardy is becoming one of my favorite actors, so my favorite is very likely to change.