If you’re going to make a film about a guy taking calls from his car -- and if half of those calls are about concrete -- then you sure as hell better cast a lead actor with command of the screen. This apparently wasn’t lost on writer-director Steven Knight, who wisely got Tom Hardy to take the wheel in his brilliant existential thriller “Locke.” It doesn’t hurt that Hardy is easy on the eyes, and has a fabulous voice.
Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a Welsh construction manager on the eve of one of the largest cement pours in history. When he steps into his sleek BMW at day’s end, he doesn’t head home. Over the course of the film’s lean 85-minute running time, we discover that Ivan is instead driving south to a London hospital, where a woman, Bethan (Olivia Colman), is going to have his illegitimate child two months ahead of schedule.
This leaves Ivan in the precarious position of making some of his most life-changing decisions -- and phone calls -- from his car: He must break the news of his paternity mess to his wife (Ruth Wilson), he must guide a fellow employee through the steps of the impending cement pour (even as Ivan deals with his inevitable sacking from the company), and must calm the troubled Bethan as she faces a distressed birth.
There’s something very Beckett-like about the proceedings. (At one point Bethan even comments that she feels like she’s “waiting for Godot.”) What’s fascinating about Ivan as a character is that he defies the usual tenets of the thriller genre. As the stakes get more intense, he refuses to lose his cool (at least to those whose phone calls he’s juggling) but rather displays an almost pathological level of damage control. He’s the essence of managerial. This should be anti-climactic, but it isn’t. Ivan serves as the steady point as all other elements zoom past him, like the diffused headlights surrounding him on the M6 (shot gorgeously, by the way, by DP Haris Zambarloukos).
Hardy is mesmerizing, with the gravitas of an old-fashioned dramatic actor (needed to pull off some of Knight’s more writerly dialogue) and the naturalism of a modern star (needed to create sympathy for Ivan’s monumental fuck-up). And about that voice: Hardy rolls his R’s and softens his vowels to great effect, almost like a spoken-word lullaby. The voice not only guides his loved ones and coworkers -- who have only his words to go off of -- but also the audience, as we fall into the rhythms of his narrated ride.
Ivan is a man driven by the need to tell the truth. And the truth will out, as surely as Bethan’s baby will come and the cement will be poured. “Locke” looks at a moment in time when a fundamentally decent man’s sins all gather simultaneously, ready for judgment. Can we recognize ourselves when our accumulated errors stare us in the face? As Ivan says, “I have behaved not at all like myself.”
"Locke" hits theaters April 25, via A24.