This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.
Lock a character in a tight space for an extended period of time, crank up the pressure, watch the results. It’s a tried and true method of generating compelling drama – albeit one that depends on a wide range of variables. Films like Phone Booth and Buried demonstrate – to varying degrees of success – the appeal of such a format. If you can get a good actor in a tight space for an extended period of time and crush them, the results are inevitably fascinating.
At the same time, it’s a very delicate cocktail. The set-up has to be convincing, the script has to be tight without being contrived, the direction needs to be spot on, the performance needs to be perfectly modulated. Steven Knight’s sophomoric feature-length film manages to maintain this fine balance for Locke‘s eighty-five minute runtime. Essentially an hour-and-a-half locked in a car with Tom Hardy, Locke is a powerhouse of a feature, an utterly compelling and heartrending watch.
The story unfolds during a long commute made by Ivan Locke. Locke is a construction worker who specialises in concrete. In many ways, this seems appropriate. The adjective “solid” is used to describe Locke, a veteran of a fifteen-year relationship with his wife and a nine-year career in his construction firm. When a personal emergency forces him to abandon his home and his job on one of the most important nights of his life, one character remarks that he is “the last person in the world” who would mess up like this.
Locke is a man driven by his own integrity and values. Abandoning an important assignment mere hours before work begins, his boss laments his decision to come clean about the situation. “Couldn’t you just have said you were sick?” his boss asks, trying to navigate the fragile professional situation into which Locke has placed himself. Of course, Locke would not have opted to take that infinitely easier path. “I’m not sick,” he states matter-of-factly. Locke is a man driven by his own self-image, desperate to do the right thing, to prove that he is made of moral fibre.
Of course, as much as he wants to prove that, it simply isn’t true – at least, not all the time. Locke insists repeatedly that he only made one mistake, one single time. “The difference between never and once is everything,” he is curtly informed – reminded that a lifetime of morality doesn’t give anybody a get out of jail free. Like the concrete used to build those structures he describes so romantically, the foundations need to be solid. If they aren’t solid, then the cracks begin to show. And then it is only so long before those cracks become more serious problems.
Steven Knight directs the film, but he also provided the script. Knight’s script is a beautiful peace of work – elegant and layered. It’s very much framed from Locke’s perspective. The rest of the world is nothing but voices coming down the phone line to Locke. There are no flashbacks for context, no objective verifications of the stories that Locke tells. The audience is asked to take Locke as they find him, to make their own judgements.
Is Locke really just a delusional and broken man whose past errors come back to haunt him? Or is he a genuinely decent person who made a single mistake? Locke doesn’t really tell the audience any of this – it asks them to reach their own conclusions based on the evidence provided. Locke is a film that values and appreciates space, refusing to commit to a particular view of its protagonist, and simply allowing his life to spill into a single long car journey for the audience to process for themselves.
Tom Hardy is absolutely phenomenal in the lead role of Ivan Locke. Affecting a Welsh accent, Hardy plays Locke as a man entirely convinced by the narrative he is driving – a man committed so completely to his own self-image and sense of legacy that he would throw his life down the drain in order to maintain those. There are any number of points where an alternate decision would make Locke’s life infinitely easier, where the character seems to choose the tougher option in every case. It’s to the credit of Hardy as a performer and Knight as a writer that all of this feels surprisingly organic.
Knight also does a wonderful job directing a film that is essentially set in the driving seat of a car. It’s hard to imagine too many options framing the story, structuring the film or even editing the footage. On the most basic of levels, this is an hour-and-a-half movie that is essentially about a really long commute. It’s to the credit of Knight that he is able to do so much with the space afforded.
Ivan spends the entire film inside the same car, but – depending on the context – it can seem like the most impossibly vast and lonely place in existence or the tightest and most oppressive car in the universe. Locke is alternately completely isolated from and inexorably connected to the world around him, inside that small car. It’s to the credit of Knight as a writer and director that the film manages that switch absolutely effortlessly.
Locke is, quite frankly, a stunning piece of filmmaking and a wonderful character-driven drama.
All audience members are asked to rank films in the festival from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, here is my score: 4