A construction worker leaves his job as a site foreman on a skyscraper build and drives to London. He leaves behind everything he holds dear, the reasons for which unfold over the course of several phone calls with friends, family and colleagues.
Locke is a daring conceit, a story propelled forward purely by the power of the spoken word, contained within in a tight theatrical box and filmed in almost real time, the film doesn’t immediately lend itself to cinema. Yet, what initially seems like it could be a boring, repetitive premise lends itself a thoughtful, ruminative character study, beautifully shot and deeply affecting throughout.
Kudos particularly must go to director Steven Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who strive to inject the film with dynamism one wouldn’t immediately expect from such limiting set-up. We are forced to focus on Locke‘s words, the neat hypnotic camera work dousing the screen in a myriad of colours, the hazy blur of the passing world goes almost unnoticed, enabling us to visualise the drama unfolding off screen. It’s abstract yet strangely beautiful.
And indeed, for its limited premise, Locke never feels claustrophobic, Tom Hardy draws you in with his sharp calm performance, inviting empathy and even sympathy in spite of his actions. It’s a brave performance for an actor mostly known for such loud, brash characters, and yet it works. So too, the voices on the other end of the line are pitched perfectly. Heard but never seen, each one carefully drip feeding the requisite drama, humour and tension with limited means.
The script, too is well crafted, focussing on the minutiae, creating a kitchen sink drama that delivers big (admittedly obvious) metaphors about collapsing buildings and cracks in concrete. For the most part it’s very successful, although some of the imaginary chats with his deceased father are jarring and don’t quite ring true and distract from the main thrust of the narrative. It also may have benefited from some quieter moments, with Hardy and his co-stars talking fairly constantly for the entire 90 minutes. For a film about one man alone in a car, there isn’t much breathing space, pauses for thought are few and far between. And although this serves to ramp up the tension, especially towards the end, it also makes the film seem overly busy and doesn’t afford the viewer a great deal of time for things to sink in.
Nonetheless, the film is held together by a towering performance from Tom Hardy as a man who can barely keep himself together, with subtle physical tics and assured vocal delivery demonstrating a fragile psyche in mid breakdown. Together with a great supporting cast and hypnotic photography, Locke comes together as a very compelling film indeed.