Locke Review: Hardy Runs Out of Gas

Going into Locke I knew that it had a single setting: a moving car.

Since Tom Hardy was the driver, and he’s been christened with the punishing moniker of Ivan Locke and his knuckles and dual reflection are featured so prominently on the film’s poster, one would expect a pulpy crime potboiler. (Okay, “Ivan” sounds much tougher if you attempt to say it in Hardy’s terse voice; so does “bread”. It’s a fun game, really, and Locke’s smallest gift is that it gives us Hardy saying “donkey” with a certain Hardy force that only he can.)

Writer/director Steven Knight plays with your assumptions quite masterfully at the start of Locke. He’s placed a cinematic tuff in the driver’s seat. He has that tuff talk to the empty back seat of his car (with fury). And he has set a time limit for that tuff to get somewhere within the film’s runtime.

What’s in the trunk of his car? Why does he have to place a nighttime call to assemble a crew? He’s listed someone in his phone as “Bastard” – does that poor soul know that he’s fucked with the wrong man?! Tom Hardy!! Err, Ivan Locke?!

But then Knight does a u-turn.

Despite his punchable name and posterized knuckle-placement, Locke is about foundations – of a man and of a building. You see, Ivan Locke has been a concrete pour supervisor of very important English buildings for nine years (as he’ll remind you, it’s not yet been ten). He’s got the biggest (non-military) foundation pour that England’s ever seen tomorrow (after the foundation is set and the 55 stories are built, it will cast a shadow for one mile! Even Ivan Locke doesn’t recognize kilometers!).

Locke’s decided he cannot make it. Knowing that he’ll get fired, Locke steps through every double-check and proper paperwork with his nine-year-colleague over the phone, so that he’s still aware of its progress and completion. He calls it “my building.” Locke’s other possessives are attached to his children and his decision. Of which he’s made. And there is no turning back.

Yes, the thriller elements are paperwork filings, proper cement mixture (don’t you dare fill Ivan Locke’s building with C5 or a mixture of C5 and C6!) and asking a drunk co-worker to run, run! to a nearby plant to get extra crew because it takes extra men to replace Ivan Locke! And those men call Locke “the best man in England!” So his foundational man code is working out pretty well. Except, as phone calls reveal, with women.

I’m using a jokey tone because it’s easy to go there with what Knight has given us: a one-man show, emphasis on “man” and the strictness of one man’s code.

However, even though Knight and Hardy can’t maintain complete engagement for the 80-minute run time, there is plenty to commend.

First, it’s refreshing how Knight reveals all the elements in play and that he is attempting to create as much tension as possible with nary a threat of violence. Secondly, although (like a lot of single performance theater) there’s a few too many daddy issue monologues, Knight makes use of his single setting quite well to give an actual physical placement to Locke’s emotional baggage that he’s carrying with him. And third, for a film that’s about one man’s life unraveling during a single car ride, it ends on the right tone of potential hope.

As Locke, Hardy is certainly game and he has to be. He’s the only face we ever see. Hardy mostly vacillates between being upset or calming someone down. Ultimately his foundation of strict truthful manhood has destroyed one area of his life, but he still has to build another. So Hardy gets to play both a suicide bomber and the man who tries to talk someone out of bombing “his” building. But Hardy gives his best performance when he’s listening and reacting to what he’s losing.

But, while we do see Hardy exit the car – once! – we didn’t see Hardy fill the tank. Locke, commendable as sections may be, just sorta runs out of gas. Perhaps that’s because Knight is most concerned with Locke engaging the back seat and everything else that’s behind him. Knight doesn’t let Locke engage with anything in front of him. Including the audience.