Do you like driving down motorways at night? Do you like living on the phone, constantly talking to people? If you like doing both these tasks at the same time you’ll love Locke. I hate doing both so I found this film very hard to watch. This isn’t a criticism of the filmmaking which is very good with a single onscreen performance by Tom Hardy which has excited many critics.
Steven Knight is a man with a past in the real world which he has translated into various film and television productions. Locke was produced by the same UK-US combination who made Hummingbird (Redemption in the US) in 2013. Before that Knight was known for writing Dirty Pretty Things for Stephen Frears and Eastern Promises for David Cronenberg – and helping to create the gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? In Knight’s second film as a writer-director, Ivan Locke is a foreman-contractor whose expertise is in ‘pouring’ concrete for major building works. On the eve of the biggest ‘pour’ in Europe he suddenly decides to leave his Birmingham building site and head to London where the woman he had a one-night fling with 7 months ago has gone into premature labour. To say that this is a crisis is an understatement. Ivan is leaving a huge contract in the hands of his assistant Donal and is having to deal with his wife (unaware of the pregnant lover) and two sons who are expecting him at home to watch a football game. With the premature birth that is three crises and Ivan adds a fourth in the form of an internal diatribe directed towards his father who we understand wasn’t always ‘there’ for his family. The film lasts 84 minutes which is roughly the time it takes to drive down the M6/M1 from Birmingham to London (though it takes a while to get onto the Motorway and off it and into the centre of London). All we see in the film is Tom Hardy in his BMW SUV. It’s a tall order for any actor but Hardy is up to the task. Knight filmed the telephone conversations ‘live’ with the actors in hotel rooms and the film certainly generates tension in its almost continuous stream of calls.
The film has suffered, I think, from being labelled as a ‘thriller’. There is certainly plenty of tension and suspense in terms of the three conversations that Ivan must join and commit to. For me the suspense was about whether he would actually crash the car – I couldn’t drive under these conditions. But mainly this is a filmic equivalent of the one-person play – an acting show which asks us to consider what is going on in this man’s head. It’s actually quite a cerebral script and explores questions of responsibility, management and organisation issues, inter-personal communication etc. Some audiences lured by the thriller tag have been disappointed but anyone seeking an intelligent one man show will have a good time. (It isn’t a one man show of course – there are good actors at the other end of the phone who we only hear but don’t see – I was impressed by Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott.)
Is this ‘filmic’ or ‘theatrical’? Apart from an opening shot of the building site, the whole film is a man in a car driving. Because the driving is at night, the colour palette is limited but the cinematographer (Haris Zambarloukos) is able to create some beautiful abstract patterns from the lights of the vehicles against the dark roads. This is a drive between the UK’s two biggest cities but it could easily be between Mars and Venus. It’s convinced me that I never want a satnav or a hands-free phone, so perhaps this is the ultimate ‘modern’ film?