×

Film Review: ‘Locke’

An exceptional one-man show for Tom Hardy, this ingeniously executed study in cinematic minimalism has depth, beauty and poise.

With:

Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner, Danny Webb, Alice Lowe.

Writer-director Steven Knight’s sophomore feature, “Locke,” is basically just Tom Hardy driving a car while making a bunch of phone calls, and yet this ingeniously executed study in cinematic minimalism has depth, beauty and poise. A finely tuned showcase for Hardy’s exceptional acting skills, Bluetooth-enabled dashboard displays and the dynamic range of the Red Epic camera, the pic tracks a dark night of the soul for a construction-site manager en route from Birmingham to London. But if the disappointing performance of pics like “Buried” is any indication, one-handers are a tough sell theatrically, and “Locke” will need fine marketing calibration to click with audiences.

Apart from an annoyed truck driver just glimpsed for a second at the beginning, the bearded visage of Ivan Locke (Hardy) is the only human face seen throughout the film’s brisk 84-minute running time. At first it’s hard to read his near-inscrutable expressions, or to pick up anything more than the slightest tremor of tension in his Welsh-accented voice as he calls home to tell his teenage sons Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Milner) to say he won’t be home that night to watch a soccer match with the family. But as he tools down the M6 motorway and merges onto the M1 bound for London in his BMW, the conversations piped through the car speakers from his cell phone gradually make clear what’s going on.

Apparently, tomorrow morning Locke is meant to be supervising the concrete pour for a ginormous skyscraper, a crucial step in the construction process involving intricate logistical problems that it is his job to smooth and sort. But for reasons incrementally revealed, he’s left work suddenly to be at the side of a woman named Bethan (voiced by the redoubtable Olivia Colman), who’s giving birth to Locke’s baby at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Unfortunately, Locke is not married to Bethan but to Katrina (Ruth Wilson), who’s devastated when Locke fesses up to what’s really going on. Katrina is not in the slightest bit reassured by his protestations that he only slept with Bethan once. “The difference between never and once is the difference between good and bad,” she insists, a point that Locke, a buttoned-up, devoted father, can’t really bring himself to argue with.

Locke’s colleagues Donal (Andrew Scott, the Irish-accented Moriarty in “Sherlock”) and Gareth (Ben Daniels) are also none too pleased with this out-of-character display of what they perceive as irresponsibility. Our hero has to do some hard managerial maneuvering to ensure the right kind of concrete is being trucked to the site, that the necessary road blocks have been approved by the right politicians, and that the right Polish builder is found to help with a bit of emergency rebar rebuilding. As with his scripts for “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Eastern Promises,” Knight likes showing off how much research he’s done into the world of work at hand, to the extent that audiences paying close enough attention could by the end elucidate the advantages of C6 over C5 concrete.

Where Knight’s script goes a little wrong is its tendency to oversell a point, presumably for slower-witted viewers in the back. Only that would explain why he feels it necessary to give Locke several rants directed at his deadbeat dead father, whom he imagines sitting in the car’s backseat, inveighing against his old man’s lack of paternal feeling in order to justify his own insistence on standing by Bethan, a woman he insists he barely knows, and to whom he refuses to make false promises of love. Fortunately, Hardy is gifted enough as an actor to sell these speeches, and editor Justine Wright cuts them in such a way as to suggest he’s partly saying this stuff in his own head, reducing the staginess of the device.

Wright is unable to save another too-on-the-nose moment toward the end, in a contrived scene in which Holland’s delivery is just a little too sappy. But these are forgivable missteps in an otherwise very fine film.

In terms of execution, the pic’s m.o. is so spare that one needn’t be a tech-credit geek to appreciate the quality of craftsmanship on display. Every artistic decision seems precise and correct, from the painstaking modulations in focus in Haris Zambarloukos’ lensing (nearly rivaling Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron’s work with automotive metal and street-light reflections in “Collateral”) to costume designer Nigel Egerton’s just-right choice to give Locke a checked shirt, suggesting his obsession with form and structure.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Locke'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 2, 2013. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production:

(U.S.-U.K.) A Lionsgate (in U.K.) release of an IM Global presentation of a Shoebox Films production. (International sales: IM Global, Los Angeles.) Produced by Paul Webster, Guy Heeley. Executive producers, Stuart Ford, David Jourdan, Steven Squillante, Joe Wright.

Crew:

Directed, written by Steven Knight. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Haris Zambarloukos; editor, Justine Wright; music, Dickon Hinchliffe; costume designer, Nigel Egerton; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), John Casali; supervising sound designer, Ian Wilson; re-recording mixer, Steve Single; visual effects supervisor, James Devlin; assistant director, Martin Harrison; casting, Shaheen Baig.

With:

Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner, Danny Webb, Alice Lowe.

More Film

  • Gerard Schurmann, Film and TV Composer,

    Gerard Schurmann, Film and TV Composer, Dies at 96

    Gerard Schurmann, whose 1960s film scores included “The Bedford Incident” and “Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow” but who also composed extensively for the concert hall, died March 24 at his home in the Hollywood Hills. The cause of death was not announced; he was 96. Schurmann’s death was announced by his music publisher, Novello & [...]

  • Rita And Tom Hanks Coronavirus

    Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Return to U.S. After Coronavirus Diagnosis in Australia

    Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are back home in the U.S. after they revealed they had contracted coronavirus and were quarantined in Australia. Hanks gave an update on Twitter Saturday morning, thanking everyone who had helped them in Australia and assuring people that they are still isolating themselves in the U.S. “Hey, folks…We’re home now [...]

  • Film Comment Magazine Goes on Hiatus

    Film Comment Magazine to Go on Hiatus as Film at Lincoln Center Lays Off Half of Staff

    Many companies are being financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the Film at Lincoln Center is the latest organization to have to lay off employees and pause some of their operations. On Friday, executive director Lesli Klainberg released a memo announcing that the center had to furlough or lay off about half of its [...]

  • "Birds of Prey" egg sandwich

    'Birds of Prey' Actor Bruno Oliver Recreates Harley Quinn's Famous Sandwich

    When actor Bruno Oliver booked the role of short order cook Sal in “Birds of Prey: (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” he had no idea how significant Sal and his breakfast sandwich were to the story. “You couldn’t tell from the audition necessarily and as actors, we always worry about our scenes [...]

  • Minyan

    'Minyan': Film Review

    Best known for the unexpectedly soul-shattering San Francisco suicide doc “The Bridge,” indie filmmaker Eric Steel came out and came of age in 1980s New York at a moment just before AIDS devastated the city’s gay community. Such timing must have been surreal, to assume something so liberating about one’s own identity, only to watch [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content