If you’re going to make a film about a guy taking calls from
his car — and if half of those calls are about concrete — then you sure as
hell better cast a lead actor with command of the screen.
This apparently wasn’t lost on writer-director Steven Knight, who wisely got Tom Hardy to
take the wheel in his brilliant existential thriller “Locke.” It doesn’t hurt
that Hardy is easy on the eyes, and has a fabulous voice.
Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a Welsh construction manager on the
eve of one of the largest cement pours in history. When he steps into his sleek
BMW at day’s end, he doesn’t head home. Over the course of the film’s lean
85-minute running time, we discover that Ivan is instead driving south to a London
hospital, where a woman, Bethan (Olivia Colman), is going to have his illegitimate child two months ahead of schedule.
This leaves Ivan in the precarious position of making some
of his most life-changing decisions — and phone calls — from his car: He must
break the news of his paternity mess to his wife (Ruth Wilson), he must guide a
fellow employee through the steps of the impending cement pour (even as Ivan
deals with his inevitable sacking from the company), and must calm the troubled
Bethan as she faces a distressed birth.
There’s something very Beckett-like about the proceedings. (At one point Bethan even comments that she feels like she’s “waiting
for Godot.”) What’s fascinating about Ivan as a character is that he defies the
usual tenets of the thriller genre. As the stakes get more intense, he refuses
to lose his cool (at least to those whose phone calls he’s juggling) but rather
displays an almost pathological level of damage control. He’s the essence of
managerial. This should be anti-climactic, but it isn’t. Ivan serves as the
steady point as all other elements zoom past him, like the
diffused headlights surrounding him on the M6 (shot gorgeously, by the way, by
DP Haris Zambarloukos).
Hardy is mesmerizing, with the gravitas of an old-fashioned
dramatic actor (needed to pull off some of Knight’s more writerly dialogue) and the
naturalism of a modern star (needed to create sympathy for Ivan’s monumental
fuck-up). And about that voice: Hardy rolls his R’s and softens his vowels to
great effect, almost like a spoken-word lullaby. The voice not only guides his loved ones and coworkers — who have only his words to go off of — but also the audience, as we fall into the rhythms of his narrated ride.
Ivan is a man driven by the need to tell the truth. And the
truth will out, as surely as Bethan’s baby will come and the cement will be
poured. “Locke” looks at a moment in time when a fundamentally decent man’s
sins all gather simultaneously, ready for judgment. Can we recognize ourselves
when our accumulated errors stare us in the face? As Ivan says, “I have behaved not at all like myself.”
“Locke” hits theaters April 25, via A24.