Cast: Tom Hardy
Director: Steven Knight
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Through a series of fraught phone calls over the course of one evening, hermetically sealed inside his claustrophobic BMW, Ivan Locke desperately tries to keep his life from unraveling. Ivan Locke is an ordinary man played by an extraordinary actor named Tom Hardy, and throughout writer/director Steven Knight's contrived stage play masquerading as a movie, he valiantly tries to hold our attention while battling against a hysterical wife, confused children, an irate boss, puzzled coworkers, a mysterious woman, and some seriously heavy-handed symbolism.
The aforementioned staginess of Locke isn't simply a coy joke; the film, for better or worse, is defiantly non-cinematic. It takes place entirely inside the car (though Knight does gives us some out of focus street lights and wide-shots of the freeway), and relies almost exclusively on Hardy's performance. That the film works at all is due to the talented actor's fervent commitment to the role, though his timid voice, strange Welsh accent, and scenery-chewing monologues to a non-existent backseat father often become a distraction. The film's main thesis seems to be that one mistake can radically alter someone's life, but Knight never figures out a way to make any of this emotionally resonant. Ivan Locke's particular mistake, which is revealed early on, seems like the kind of thing that would indeed set a man's life into a downward spiral, but the character's decision-making as well as the reason why he's driving in the middle of the night, are much too contrived to be believable. Every phone call, which alternate between hushed conversations with his wife, placating ones with his young son, shouting matches with his frazzled boss and dumbfounded coworker, come at such a rapid clip that the effect becomes laughable.
Knight, who has written scripts for Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, has a knack for couching universal themes in mundane conversation, and there's some engaging shop-talk between Locke and construction coworker Donal (voiced by Andrew Scott), but in his desire to bleed hackneyed metaphors into the material, Knight makes some serious logical errors that are at first frustrating, until they become unforgivable. Why, for instance, would a construction company wait until the last minute to secure all the necessary permits for blocking off streets for a historic, multi-million dollar cement pour? The answer is so that Hardy can have unconvincing exchanges with the scatter-brained Donal and bile-spewing boss (an overwrought Ben Daniels). The loaded attempts at symbolism, such as Ivan being a professional builder who's destroying his life and can't "rebuild" what he's ruined, and an instance where he says "one little mistake and the whole thing comes crashing down" in reference to the concrete base of the building, are eye-rolling in their obviousness.
Hardy is a fascinating, risk-taking actor, and it's nice to see him in a one-man showcase, but Knight's ham-fisted writing and lazy direction (visually, the film simply cuts back and forth from different angles of Hardy's face), undoes his valiant efforts. As a character, Ivan Locke isn't that morally complex, and his decision to make this fateful drive is self-absorbed, stemming from his disconnected relationship with a long-dead father, whom he often taunts in those aforementioned backseat monologues. In these scenes, Hardy goes over the top in a way that feels attention-grabbing, jarring us out of emotionally connecting with a character who is supposed to be a stand-in for the emasculated modern man. His constant refrain that he's trying to "do the right thing" feels spurious at best, a kind of skewered urge to avenge the sins of the father. During such moments, we are reminded of Hardy's grandiose turn in Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson, a film with moody stylishness and doses of macabre absurdity that was a perfect match for Hardy's larger than life portrayal. Here, one can sense Hardy's restlessness in trying to break away from the film's constraints, and while limiting the action to one geographical space can be freeing, it backfires here because Knight forgets to supply the narrative with believability.
Locke is a more interesting film in theory than execution. In a way, it resembles that ridiculous Ryan Reynolds vehicle Buried, in which The Green Lantern himself was trapped inside a cramped space for an entire movie while launching into panic-stricken cell phone calls. Unlike Buried, which at least embraced it's genre ludicrousness with a flair for the dramatic, Locke is too self-conscious and think's it's about something deeper and more universal. Despite Hardy's thespian heavy-lifting (construction pun intended), Knight never supplies us with any reason to care about the story he's telling, and consequently, why this should even be told cinematically in the first place.