Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is in his car throughout the duration of Locke. He signals a left turn. With the blaring horn of a construction truck behind, Locke signals right and proceeds. That decision during the night hour on an English highway is the catalyst that begins Steven Knight’s small 85-minute film. Within the confines of Locke’s automobile, the measured blue-collar project manager in charge of a critical cement pour will struggle to keep his job and family secure. A taut piece of minimalistic cinema, Locke’s structure as a morality narrative provides a solid, if not particularly revelatory, experience.
A film like Locke could have easily been transposed to the stage, where its singular setting may have been a bit more accommodating in its design. Aware of the un-cinematic problems that could occur, writer/director Steven Knight overcompensates at the start of Locke by producing a series of abruptly cut sequences that could steer viewers away from the picture entirely. Unlike other directors who have developed particular rhythms in shooting car conversations (such as Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami), Steven Knight’s opening act suffers from a particularly grating emphasis on quick cuts from interior and exterior shots of Locke’s car that threatens to deride the film entirely. From messy edits to odd dissolves and transpositions, Locke’s dramatic flourishes were overcome by a messy visual presentation.
Thankfully, the film reaches a subdued tempo, perhaps as a result of Tom Hardy’s immersive performance. Combined with Knight’s dialogue, Locke functions on a cinematic level largely because of Hardy’s performance, where he develops a set of tendencies that resist the urge for histrionics. There’s something that simmers throughout Hardy’s performance that’s aware of the anxieties of losing his family and job while he attempts to maintain a crumbling but calm demeanor. It’s a tough performance to remain so incredibly magnetic throughout the film, but Hardy whose work extends to more physically demanding performances - Bronson, The Dark Knight Rises, and Warrior - sheds the hyper-masculine bravado for a much more anxious performance.
Locke’s minimalism offers an attractive counter-option for the usual blockbuster fare populating theaters. The dialogue is especially impressive as it has a regional and occupational specificity that feels both foreign but never alienating. The film’s emphasis on simple people attempting to trudge through personal issues of great magnitude - all within the confines of a car - is a beautifully constructed parable on the vast scope of concerns that plague everyday people. Locke’s simplicity never compromises its effectiveness.