Published May 08, 2014This startling character study from writer/director Steven Knight (best known for penning both Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things after creating Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) is tense, dark and claustrophobic in equal measure. An exercise in cinematic minimalism, Locke takes place entirely inside a BMW as it drives down a series of darkened motorways from Birmingham to London.
Inside the car we find Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a construction site manager who, instead of overseeing the myriad preparations that need to be done before tomorrow's massive delivery of cement, has gone AWOL. It turns out that he's gotten a woman pregnant on a regrettable one-night stand, and tonight of all nights, her water has broken. The child of an absent father himself, Locke refuses to abandon the baby despite knowing (and caring) little about the mother (voiced by a pitch perfect Olivia Colman). As he fields phone call after phone call from his apoplectic boss (Ben Daniels), his distraught wife (Ruth Wilson), his confused kids and a half-drunk underling left to handle everything in his absence (an off-screen scene-stealing Andrew Scott), the audience is slowly, incrementally, let in on what's going on.
Tom Hardy, called upon to carry the film on his shoulders, proves utterly up to the task. His face at first reveals little; his is the stiffest of upper lips as he navigates the wildly choppy waters of infidelity, work-related catastrophe and impending fatherhood. His heavily accented Welsh voice never wavers. He tosses out platitudes, speaks as a man obsessed with order, unaccustomed to the kind of chaos he has thrown his world into on this night.
A certain old school sexism seems tied to this idea of order — the entreaties of both his wife and the woman he has impregnated are dismissed at different times because they are "distraught." He tells his agonized wife that he wants her to start thinking about a "practical next step" only moments after he has dropped the megaton bomb on her of his betrayal and looming extra-marital fatherhood. He is, especially when dealing with those he has wronged, horrifically selfish.
But as we get to know him, and as the stress mounts, Hardy's Locke begins to unravel, ever so slightly, allowing us a chance to warm to him, to sympathize with his tragedy. He honestly thinks he is doing the right thing. The tumult beneath inevitably breaches the surface of his calm veneer. In his most subtle, most complex role yet, Hardy's performance is astonishing.