Locke review: riding in a car with a boy

Locke green light

We say things like, “Oh, I’d watch that guy read the phone book,” and this is almost that. Except it really is absolutely riveting, and that’s no joke.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Tom Hardy

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is the movie that is just Tom Hardy driving in his car for 90 minutes, talking on his mobile. We say things like, “Oh, I’d watch that guy read the phone book,” and this is almost that. Except it really is absolutely riveting, and that’s no joke.

Still, I’m seeing Locke getting called a “thriller” around the Net, which is a little bit of a stretch. What Hardy’s (The Dark Knight Rises, Lawless) Ivan Locke is driving toward and what’s he’s talking to various people about on the phone are matters of some suspense, and his motives end up being something that you could have wonderful heated discussions about for hours and hours afterward. But none of it is the usual stuff of thrillers. What’s going on here is that Locke’s life is falling apart in the two hours it’s taking him to drive from Wales to London — the film, which starts out in the interior of his car and never leaves it, unspools almost in real time — and he is trying to manage that collapse in a practical way that can never, ever work.

See, cuz… Well, I won’t tell you what’s awaiting him so urgently in London, but it’s no spoiler to reveal that what he is leaving behind in Wales is “the biggest concrete pour Europe has ever seen.” Locke is some sort of architectural engineer, and he is the expert the megacorp whose project he is helping to build who is required on the scene for the big event the next morning. Except he’s in his car driving away from it. Some of his phone calls are to his assistant, explaining what needs to be done to get the job done right. Locke is very philosophical about his work: “You don’t trust God when it comes to concrete,” he explains with the patience of a priest talking to a child. He is downright passionate about concrete. He seems to understand it better than he understands people.

The brilliant script by Steven Knight, who also directed — and this is so much better than his previous film, the ambitious but tragicomically flawed Hummingbird — is like watching Locke try to pour emotional concrete, but as if he doesn’t understand that people are not concrete and they will not settle into the feelings you want them to settle in to if you get the mix of feels just right. Maybe he’s slightly Asperger’s. Maybe he’s just not emotionally mature but trying to be. For his phone calls to the people back home and the people ahead of him in London reveal that he is trying to do a “right thing” in a situation where there probably isn’t a single right thing to be found, and yet if there were a wrongest thing he could be doing, a thing that would cause maximum damage all around, to all aspects of his life both personal and professional, he seems to have found that. Hardy is so still and so calm through it all, and yet there’s a sense that Locke might be throwing a sort of tantrum: maybe he’s just past an emotional last straw of his own?

This is a marvelous film: simple, elegant, haunting. It may not be a thriller, but it is certainly thrilling to see a filmmaker and an actor take such a daring cinematic risk and have it pay off so handsomely.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

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