A man drives down the M6 desperately trying to reach a London hospital while attempting to patch up his disintegrating home and professional life through a series of phone calls. Director and writer Steven Knight deserves praise for his bold attempt to try something different even if he can’t quite make it pay off.
Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a married father of two and construction site foreman with a penchant for concrete. He’s on the eve of the biggest concrete pour of his life (the largest in Europe outside of nuclear or defence as several people remark). Yet he’s also a man who’s made a major error of judgement that is about to claim its prize, putting at risk home and professional life.
If Locke has a thing for concrete, Knight is clearly addicted to gritty yet almost hallucinatory urban environments. Here, without ever leaving his car, the red, orange and yellows of street and car lights flash past in the night as Locke makes his way down the arterial motorway, driving past glowing towns, service stations and the night traffic.
Impressively, given the confined nature Locke operates within, his rolling series of phone calls provoke a surprising amount of interest. Attempting to talk an unqualified colleague through the preparations for the concrete pour he has abandoned provides the highlight. Believable and often amusing dialogue inflects the conversations as he cajoles people to follow his instructions, recruits new staff and even tries to sober up a panicking employee.
While the professional life works well, the private side can’t quite emulate it. The ease with which Locke’s construction conversations flow is not matched by the more stilted familial crisis, a situation that starts well before folding into slightly bland monologues and staid soap promises all the while based around the touchstone of a football game he was supposed to be watching with his sons.
Even worse than that, Knight introduces Locke’s dead father as a travel companion, a target for his own self-justification. Periodically, he breaks off from his phone calls to berate his deceased father and explain how he is not turning out to be just like him even if he kind of is. It’s a disappointing dramatic misstep in a film that otherwise clings closely to realism.
Alone on screen, Hardy makes for a reassuring presence, calm and collected for the most part and convincingly frayed when he does occasionally break. His accent wavers a little more than it should, but he exerts a comforting grip on his role. An impressive range of actors also chip in over the phone including Andrew Scott, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Tom Holland.
Ultimately though, the problem with Locke is that it isn’t really going anywhere. It’s a creative concept rather than a fulfilling film. Intriguing initially, the lack of direction and emotional impact drains forward momentum until everything comes to an unsatisfactory halt.
Director: Steven Knight
Writer: Steven Knight
Stars: Tom Hardy, Olivia Coleman, Ruth Wilson
Runtime: 85 mins
Country: USA, UK