Rating: B/ Tom Hardy, in a car. Driving. For an hour and a half. Who knew such a movie would be watchable, let alone oddly compelling? Construction foreman Ivan Locke (Hardy) is in a bit of a bind. The woman he recently had an affair with (whose voice on Locke’s speaker phone is provided by Olivia Colman) is carrying his baby and has just gone into premature labor, triggering some complications with the birth. So Ivan, feeling responsible (and rightfully so) for the woman’s situation, drops his important construction job the next morning and the opportunity to watch a big football game with his two adolescent sons (voiced by Tom Holland and Bill Milner) to be with her for the event. Ivan’s lover’s needy and vulnerable, his wife (voiced by Ruth Wilson) wants to hang his philandering balls out to dry, and the job site’s a mess without him. Determined to do the right thing for once, Ivan juggles his responsibilities via phone calls as he makes his way to witness the birth of his illegitimate child.
Even though the whole plot of the movie could have been avoided had Locke just kept it in his pants, Locke is a surprisingly good and profound flick for an ‘experimental’ film set almost entirely in one man’s car. Tom Hardy makes any movie better, and those of you who would be content just to hear him read the phone book will get nerdgasms getting to watch him and him alone for an entire film. Ironically, Locke is the illegitimate child of a philandering father who abandoned him and abruptly reentered his life years later, and he has spectacular Daddy Issues as a result. He doesn’t want to be a screw-up like his dad, and he doesn’t want to put his child in the same position his dad put him in. Sometimes Locke will hold heated one-way discussions with his dead father while he drives, which I suppose isn’t too contrived. After all, which of us hasn’t talked to ourselves when no one’s around at least once in our lives? It’s only when you talk to yourself in public that you’re crazy. Right?
So, we all know Tom Hardy’s a very good actor, and this is no exception. His performance here is subdued and subtle, so don’t expect a lot of over-the-top screaming and meltdowns. We watch as Locke goes from having everything to losing everything in one terrible night, and we can’t help but feel a little sorry for him (though I can’t blame his wife for kicking him out, to be honest, I think most women would do the same if their husband got someone pregnant.) Hardy has a certain likability and charisma that lends him some degree of sympathy no matter what kind of pond scum he’s playing, and you find yourself hoping Locke’s wife will take his cheating ass back.
When he says with hangdog guiltiness that it was a stupid mistake, you believe him, Hardy’s performance is so earnest that the wife actually comes off as a bit unreasonable. This is a dialogue based movie for sure, but it’s only half as boring as you might expect going in. Tom Hardy achieves the impossible, he actually makes a movie about a guy sitting in a car talking on the phone interesting, nay, even intense. Kudos to Hardy and the writer/director Steven Knight, for that. Together they create a substantial motion picture out of practically nothing. Holding an audience’s attention for this long with nothing but a single actor and a single set takes a high wire act of pure brilliance, and although the rewatch value for this movie is fairly low (once is enough) it holds it’s own among much ‘bigger’ films with ten times the budget and much more marketable premises. By the end of this movie, you’ll feel like you’re in the car with Ivan Locke on the worst night of his life, waiting with bated breath for a inevitably bleak outcome.