By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 23, 2014 at 3:28PM
UK writer-turned-director Steven Knight ("Dirty Pretty Things," "Eastern Promises") introduced a screening of "Locke" (April 25) at his agency CAA Monday night. On the one hand, "Locke" is a daring film experiment (similar to Mike Figgis' triptych "Time Code"), as Knight wanted to film one performance in normal time from start to finish. Using three multiple cameras, inside and outside a BMW driving through the night on the M6, Knight and actor Tom Hardy ran through an intense sequence of bluetooth phone calls 16 times over 12 days. No other actor appears on screen--the voice actors, including Olivia Colman and Ruth Wilson, were sitting in a conference room as the calls rolled into Hardy's car. On the other, "Locke" is a tense, well-written and edited drama carried by Hardy's riveting, naturalistic performance.
You can see that Hardy is really driving. As the movie unfolds, you start to figure out why the very stressed Ivan Locke, who is trying to hold himself together under immense pressure, is driving away from a gigantic building construction site, giving instructions about pouring concrete to his right-hand man, and talking to a woman he hardly knows in a hospital. He also talks to someone who is not on the phone: his father. Each call ratchets up the stakes as you get to know and care about this decent, well-intentioned man, who in an instant abandons control of his well-organized life. He is heroic as he does something that he believes is right that threatens to upend everything. "I have made my decision," he keeps telling the people who are questioning just that. And he adds, "I have behaved not at all like myself."
As he talks to his wife and kids, his employee and boss, and a woman and a doctor in the hospital that he is hurtling toward on the M6, he feels a wide range of emotions: frustration, anger, anxiety, guilt, concern, pride, anticipation, sorrow, amusement, pain, loss, joy and grief. We all feel these things: but not in such a concentrated period of movie time.
This is a case where despite the small scale of this digital movie (which cost less than $1 million), Hardy's performance is so towering--and moving--that it's a pity the film won't have a major festival launch before its stateside release. The film made its world premiere at August's Venice Film Festival, where it won raves despite showing out of competition, but the Toronto Fest would not give it a prime gala slot without the working Hardy on hand. But the film screened for buyers there, and A24 picked it up before playing October's London International Film Festival. The distributor of "Spring Breakers" and "The Bling Ring" is on a roll after "The Spectacular Now" and "Under the Skin." They booked the film at Sundance, where it played without much fanfare outside the main sections. So they're opening the film April 25 --while there's room to breathe --and hoping it does well enough to justify a Best Actor awards campaign.
Hardy isn't yet a household name. But anyone who tracks acting knows he has the right stuff. He debuted in HBO's "Band of Brothers" and broke out with Hollywood insiders via passed-around screeners of Nicolas Winding Refn's "Bronson," which revealed an extraordinary actor. Casting agents took notice, and Hardy landed back-to-back roles in Christopher Nolan's "Inception" and "The Dark Knight Rises" as well as "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "Lawless." He's coming up in a number of films at various stages of production: George Miller's long-in-the-works "Mad Max" sequel "Fury Road," the Dennis Lehane robbery story "The Drop," Daniel Espinosa's "Child 44," also starring Gary Oldman; and has landed the title role in upcoming Elton John biopic "Rocketman."