Set solely in the confines of a BMW, Stephen Knight’s Locke is among the most riveting films of 2014. This unusual film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in late 2013. It also screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and then had a limited theatrical release in late April. Locke clocks in at a taut 85 minutes, the exact duration of a frantic drive from Birmingham to London that will leave you breathless, in large part due to Tom Hardy’s tour-de-force performance as the dutiful Ivan Locke.
Roles like Ivan Locke don’t come along very often, and if Tom Hardy weren’t already on his way to becoming a major movie star (Mad Max: Fury Road will take care of that in 2015), Locke would stand out even more as the project that catapulted him to the next level. Hardy proves once again that charisma isn’t something that can be taught. Another actor might have crumbled under the pressure of being the film’s sole screen presence (all other actors are voices on Locke’s speaker phone), but Hardy rises to the challenge and thrives.
Though he’s only 5’9”, Hardy manages a dominant screen presence, never more so than when he has center stage in Locke.
(WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW) Hardy’s Ivan Locke is a soft spoken construction manager who abandons his multi-million dollar project the night before a crucial stage in the construction schedule to travel to London for a mysterious, but urgent reason. From the moment he appears on screen, Hardy’s Locke seems calm, cool and collected. Hardy uses his soothing and cajoling voice as his instrument, imbuing Locke with an air of control and an odd elegance as he makes a series of phone calls that soon reveal to the audience that how desperately his life is unraveling.
The purpose for Locke’s hasty trip is shocking: he’s speeding to London to attend the birth of his child with an unsteady older woman with whom he had a one-night-stand out of pity. Now that generous impulse is costing him his job and his family. Hardy’s Locke is weary, but at the same time, on edge. Although he sits upright behind the wheel of his BMW, his slightly hunched shoulders reveal the weight of his burden. In between sips of cough syrup and nose blowing, Locke must talk his underling through a complex series of steps involved in the pouring of the foundation for a major building while also making confessions to his friends and family along the way.
Interestingly, Hardy—aided by Knight’s acerbic dialogue—maintains the same soothing tone in his voice whether he is speaking to his wife, Katrina (Ruth Wilson), his mistress Bethan (Olivia Colman) or his drunken employee Donal (Andrew Scott). Hardy’s even tone and cool demeanor make Locke’s occasional outbursts of frustration all the more effective. A man determined to adhere to a moral code that values accountability above all else, Hardy’s Locke is unwavering in his decision to stand by the mother of his child. But are his actions selfish or selfless? The verdict is left up to the audience.
One effective device for explaining Locke’s motivations—which could have been grating in the hands of a lesser actor—involves Locke’s speaking to his dead father intermittingly through the drive as though he were in the backseat. While Hardy’s mouth is partially obscured by his beard, his eyes are on fire—constantly searching the horizon and revealing hidden depths. Hardy’s Locke is honest to a fault—even with himself. In conversations with his imagined father, Hardy as Locke spews out frustrations that stem from his father’s desertion of him at a young age. These are the few, brief moments that Hardy allows Locke to crack and ultimately to strengthen his resolve. He does not want history to repeat itself. He does not want to do to a child what his father did to him. Hardy’s Locke simply won’t allow it—even at the expense of his family and livelihood.
Actors like Tom Hardy are rare. His technique harkens back to the old-school masculinity of stars like Marlon Brando and Robert Mitchum. Though he’s only 5’9”, Hardy manages a dominant screen presence, never more so than when he has center stage in Locke. Hardy has 5 projects coming out in 2015 (including one with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu). I, for one, can’t wait.
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