Ivan Locke (Hardy) embarks on a claustrophobic odyssey along late night motorways. He is on the brink of the biggest job of his career – but he’s driving in the opposite direction. His only companion is the radio as he makes a series of life altering phone calls.
Locke (2013) is a film that inhabits the confined spaces of a car and the lonely recesses of driver Ivan Locke’s mind. The focus is tight and for ninety minutes the only character on screen is Locke. The dark night and the artificial lighting conjures up images of service stations viewed through bleary eyes somewhere in the middle of a long drive.
There’s nothing visually exciting or arresting about Locke. It’s a film that’s difficult to pin point in terms of genre or perhaps even tone. The lighting and the setting convey a thriller-esque quality but the narrative that follows is one that involves the disintegration of a mans life in minutia.
In fact this seems to be the easiest and most illuminating metaphor to describe the overall thrust of this movie. The motorway setting functions as a representation of the diversity of the human experience. We follow the story of Ivan Locke but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of equally arresting narratives in the cars and cities that he passes.
Phone calls, concrete, and Locke
Locke is on a journey and it seems to be one that he has embarked on hastily. The film begins with a phone conversation between Locke and a foreman on the building site that Locke supervises. Locke is very interested in concrete and perhaps more specifically how that concrete will reach the building site.
This is apparently the biggest job of Ivan Locke’s career but he’s headed away and he attempts to micro manage from afar. Locke is a man that likes to be in control and this can be seen in the motivation for his journey. It seems that Locke is about to be a father and the mother is someone that he had a fleeting affair with.
This ensures that Locke is headed towards something life altering and the motorway again serves as a simple but effective visual metaphor. Locke is clearly moving forwards but there is also great emphasis on what he’s leaving behind. There are several difficult conversations between Locke and his wife, as he explains why he won’t be home in time for tea.
Hardy is an action movie star
Hardy is an actor known for his work in more action orientated roles. There was Warrior, Lawless, and The Dark Knight Rises and so Locke may seem an unusual choice for Hardy. However there are two other films that spring to mind whilst watching Hardy’s performance. There’s James Franco in 127 Hours and Ryan Reynolds in Buried. In both of the films mentioned there is a reliance on the protagonist to carry the entire story and deliver it in the form of an extended monologue.
It could be viewed as a cynical choice on the actors part as this type of character piece allows that actor a feature length movies worth of screen time. But that is a reductive perspective and one that negates the great work done by the actors themselves.
But that’s not to say that Hardy fails to convey Locke’s humanity. Hardy plays the role through clenched teeth and speaks in a minimalistic tone. This isn’t a Tom Hardy that we know well. Gone is the Blockbuster persona, the successful Hollywood actor, and instead we’re given a sombre and controlled performance.
Locke is the story of a very bad night in one man’s life. He’s not anyone special, he’s not undeserving of bad stuff, but he is a person and a person struggling to cope. In this we find the essence of Ivan Locke. He’s a man trying to do his best and make up for a mistake. The problem is he doesn’t do it very well.
Locke is claustrophobic cinema
Ivan Locke is a man in transit and when you leave something behind there’s no guarantee it’ll be the same when you get back. This is something that Locke struggles to realise and it takes him the entire journey to understand that blind action can be just as futile as inaction.
Steven Knight directs Locke with a soft touch and keeps the camera close maintaining the tight and constricted confessional that Ivan Locke is travelling within. In some ways Knight has simply created a radio play with visuals. What Locke is lacking in style though it more than makes up for in substance.
This is a slow and meandering film and one that takes some patience. It’s not anything more than a character study but Hardy shines in the film and conveys Ivan Locke in a three dimensional, poignant, and touching light.