Directed and written by Steven Knight
85 minutes, R (language)
* * * * *
Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) sits in his BMW and drives from Birmingham to London. It takes 85 minutes. That's all that physically happens in the film Locke. There are no explosions, no shoot-outs, no menacing bad guys, and no FX–just dialogue. For all that it lacks in the traditional movie-making sense, Locke is also the most thrilling, tense, and psychologically taut ride you'll take all year. It is no exaggeration to attach the label 'masterpiece' to Steven Knight's screenplay and film.
If your skepticism needle is dancing in the red zone, so was mine until I saw this film. An early scene sets the tone. Ivan Locke walks from a massive construction site through the gathering darkness, opens his car door, drives a short distance, stops at a signal, and activates his turn signal. When the light turns green he sits frozen at the intersection until honked by a truck behind him. Locke wipes the fatigue from his face and turns in the opposite direction. We soon learn that Locke–a successful contractor who, in the morning is supposed to supervise the largest civilian concrete pour in European history–is headed for London, not his suburban home where his wife and two sons await. Why?
We also discover that Locke is such a man of routine, competence, probity, reason, and dependability that, deviations like the one upon which he has embarked are (as we're reminded) "not like" him. Details emerge through a series of phone calls between Ivan and his boss, an assistant prone to drink, his son, his wife, a city council member, and a woman he barely knows. As Ivan drives, he tries to command the winds of a perfect storm. All that's riding on any slip-up is the fate of a multi-billion-dollar project, his career, his marriage, his legacy, and his honor. We're never quite sure if Ivan is a god orchestrating the fate of others, or an obsessive-compulsive rushing toward madness as orderliness unravels.
Locke was filmed (mostly) in real time. We see what Ivan sees–the rain-slicked roads, the speeding lorries, the hypnotic glare of taillights and highway lamps, the glow of the dashboard, and fatigue-induced mirages. Those who recall Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) will recognize Locke's visual style. Just as Robert De Niro fueled the beatific horror of Taxi Driver, so too is Tom Hardy the driving force of Locke. Steven Knight's crisp screenplay is worthy of accolades in its own right but like other dialogue-heavy films such as Diner or Glengarry Glen Ross, words fall flat unless they are articulated by talented actors. I reiterate–Ivan Locke's drive to London is all that happens in this film. Tom Hardy's genius is making the audience passengers in both the car and his mind. Is he orchestrating us as well, or does he need company as he transgresses the line between control and passion? –Rob Weir