Locke (2013) — Image via lgukpublicity.co.uk

Locke

Directed by Steven Knight (2013)

Steven Knight’s Locke is a little bit of a thriller, a little bit of a family drama, and a little bit of a construction-site procedural, but mostly, it is a film about one man driving a car for an hour and a half while talking on the phone. You could consider it a sort of cautionary tale about distracted driving, but don’t expect it to end with a fiery wreck.

Locke opens with the departure of construction manager Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy, in the film’s only on-screen speaking role) from a massive building site in Wales. Waiting at an intersection with his left turn signal on, Ivan hesitates for a bit after the light turns green, then suddenly turns right and gets on the highway toward London. We soon learn why: The previous year, Ivan had an alcohol-fueled one-night stand with a coworker, Bethan (Olivia Colman), who ended up getting pregnant, and she has just called him to let him know that she has gone into labor a month early. This is particularly inconvenient for two reasons: Ivan is meant to be overseeing an intricate concrete pouring operation the next morning, and he has not yet summoned up the courage to tell his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) about his affair and the consequences.

Locke (2013) — Image via lgukpublicity.co.ukFor the remainder of Ivan’s trip to London, we watch and listen to him talk to a few key people. He finally confesses to Katrina, and he speaks with his two sons Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Milner). He updates Bethan on his progress toward the hospital in London. He tells his boss Gareth (Ben Daniels) that he will not be there to oversee the concrete pour — news that is not received well at all — and guides his nervous coworker Donal (Andrew Scott) through the necessary preparations. And, via the rear-view mirror, he talks to his dead father, who abandoned him as a child — something he is resolved not to repeat with his and Bethan’s arriving offspring.

Ivan is heavily invested in regarding himself, and having others regard him, as a “good man” — honest, upstanding, and above all dependable — and up until now he has largely succeeded, but for the brief fling with Bethan that he insists was his one and only lapse. At the beginning of his journey to London, he seems to genuinely believe that by remaining calm and reasonable, he can preserve his marriage, lay the foundation for “his” building, and still be there for the birth of his new child. Over the course of the trip, his confidence and, by extension, his self-image are challenged more than once. In these moments as well as his moments of success, we get a few glimpses into the turbulent emotions below the surface of a man whose desire to remain stoic is compounded by his need to keep his eyes on the road.

Locke (2013) — Image via lgukpublicity.co.ukWithout denigrating the notable contributions of the voice actors, Locke is a film that was destined to sink or swim on the basis of Hardy’s talents. Thankfully, it swims. Hardy — aided, of course, by Knight’s excellently calibrated script — skillfully uses his voice and his body language to alternately build the suspense, release the tension with a dose of humor, and make room for contemplation. With little variety in the visuals or the soundtrack over the course of the film’s 85 minutes, his ability to keep viewers fully engaged as Ivan attempts to resolve his multiple dilemmas is a notable achievement.

Among its other positive qualities, Locke deserves credit for taking Ivan’s work life seriously. While certain types of work — e.g., police work — have been done to death on screen and especially on television, other vocations are often treated as mere incidentals. Ivan’s work — like, in fact, most work — forces him to focus intently on things that most people take for granted, and it is refreshing to see that aspect of his life portrayed, from his pride in knowing whom to call upon to handle particular tasks to the impact of his work focus on his wife’s perception of him.

For this and many other reasons, Hardy, Knight, and their collaborators make Locke worth going along for the ride. After a recent screening at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, the film begins its U.S. theatrical run on Apr. 25.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.