“So am I on a list?”
There’s symmetry between the production of Steven Knight‘s Locke and its plot. Like the insane job everyone’s imploding over that its lead bails on while driving an hour away to be present at the birth of a child conceived with someone who’s not his wife, getting this film made was no walk in the park. For Knight it was an idea to strip down filmmaking sparked by the experience directing his debut Hummingbird and falling in love with the colorful reflections created during test footage. This spawned a pitch, a dinner date with Tom Hardy, a script, and a two-week window to shoot. Treating it as a play, they filmed the entire movie each night for eight days with the end result proving a poignant look at our choices and consequences told through a captivating one-man show of pride and regret.
The veteran Eastern Promises screenwriter who was Oscar-nominated for scripting Dirty Pretty Things, Knight has crafted a taut thriller about a regular Joe’s mistake and the actions taken as a result. It’s a grand yet simple contradiction of a reputation built as someone unwaveringly reliable and honest being undone by the truth he is anything but. Sure he’ll do anything for the job even if it means staying on the phone all night to walk his replacement through the necessary steps to pour the concrete base of what will be a massive skyscraper. Yes he loves his wife and two sons unequivocally. But as a character says towards the end, there’s a big difference between none and one where infidelity is concerned. Even if you’ve been a saint your whole life, people always remember the instant you weren’t.
This is the film throughout its 86-minute runtime: a steady stream of phone calls received and sent incredulously asking if Ivan Locke (Hardy) has gone mad as he speeds down the M6 motorway to London. Whether boss Gareth (Ben Daniels)—affectionately labeled “Bastard” on caller-ID; employee Donal (Andrew Scott); or wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson), everyone believes it’s a joke when he first explains he won’t be coming home or arriving for work the next day. This isn’t him—this is something everyone but he would do. Almost ten years as a construction foreman and fifteen as a husband and never could anyone close to him have guessed he’d find himself in his current predicament. No one but his deceased, deadbeat father anyway, the man who provided the DNA currently hiding the inevitable truth inside his every cell.
It’s not hard to guess what’s happening after a call home hears younger son Eddie (Tom Holland) saying mom can’t come to the phone. It would be an innocuous exchange if not for the fact Ivan’s initial dialogue left a voice message to Bethan (Olivia Colman) about being on his way. Fate has brought his one inexcusable transgression back to force him into making an impossible choice that will shatter his conscience with morality long since compromised the day he let two bottles of wine and a sympathetic ear change the course of his life. Should he ignore the fruit of a one-night stand, forever forsaking a child the same way his father did he? Or does he do right by his duties as a man and father knowing that it may mean no longer having a home?
Set entirely within Ivan’s car as he drives what will hopefully be half of a round trip, we witness the tragedy of his confession via his emotional responses to disembodied voices on the line. Metaphor runs rampant as the concept of the concrete pour he’s missing and possibly ruining mirrors the cracks he’s chipped into the foundation of his marriage, family, and soul. There’s no forgiveness to ask for, no apology to be shared. Ivan Locke is nothing if not practical and he tries his best to cajole the rest into following suit. How could they, though? How could they not let emotions run high in opposition to his calm demeanor desperately attempting to remain pragmatic and literal? He may have made a decision in part as a response to an unavoidably rough past, but he’s not the only one who must live with it.
These incendiary exchanges are what make Locke shine as more than a static one-man show composed of highway glare and car commercial sensibilities. Where the visuals are concerned, I can’t help but think the film feels like more of a staged experimentation than a visceral treat of minimalistic intent. Maybe if it were somehow a continuous shot that increased its sense of claustrophobia as the walls close in on Hardy’s pained and remorseful adulterer I wouldn’t think this way. It’s brilliantly conceived as far as “seeing” each conversation as being between two three-dimensional characters despite never glimpsing the other party, but the constant cuts to outside the car and slick compositions in mirrors and through glass take you away from the suspense of his professional race against time and personal Hail Mary pass for attrition.
That’s not to say the psychological war onscreen isn’t effective—Hardy truly captures our full attention as he wrestles with what he’s done by attempting to justify his response. He admits his fault and to a point has us feeling sorry for his fate despite knowing he deserves to lose everything. Watching his stone-faced tears, outbursts of rage, and immeasurable remorse is as honest as the voices on the phone reconciling the bombshell lain in their laps. Locke’s transgression is nothing new, but his response is almost wholly unique due to being a good man—or at least as good a man as someone who’s done what he did can be. There are ramifications for his actions and he accepts them, making every compliment and declaration of love as painful as the justifiable vitriol spat his way.
courtesy of A24