Sundance Review: 'Locke'

Nothing can cater to an actor’s ego or test their talent quite as well as making them the sole character on screen. Tom Hanks confirmed as much with “Cast Away,” Ryan Reynolds revealed unexpected chops in “Buried,” while Sandra Bullock and Robert Redford each held their own during last year’s “Gravity” and “All is Lost,” respectively. Tom Hardy finds himself in less immediately dire circumstances as the only face around in Steven Knight’s “Locke,” but over the course of 84 minutes on a motorway, the formidable English actor earns his fair share of both attention and acclaim.

Ivan Locke (Hardy) is a Birmingham construction foreman forsaking both his job and his own family plans on the eve of the largest concrete pour in Europe (save for military or nuclear facilities), because his bastard child with London colleague Bethan (voice of Olivia Colman) has arrived two months prematurely and Ivan insists on being there for the birth. That’s it: one man, one car, making endless phone calls between his boss (Ben Daniels), his proxy on the worksite (Andrew Scott), his furious wife (Ruth Wilson) and his panicked fling, with Ivan the terrible addressing each with the same calm Welsh brogue, insisting to them as much as himself that they “must find the next logical step.”

His is a coldly direct personality that has clearly served him well over nine years of tough jobs and fifteen years of wedded bliss, and yet Locke’s every attempt to keep the plates spinning as they should is at odds with the very human emotion often heard at the other end of the line. Previously the scribe behind “Eastern Promises” and “Dirty Pretty Things,” writer/director Knight exploits the relative roominess of Ivan’s BMW SUV to place the camera anywhere he can to best convey these discussions; even then, Knight struggles to combat the unavoidable visual monotony of streaking lights, passing motorists and the sight of one sullen, sniffling man at the wheel.

However, as a transparently theatrical scenario unfolding nearly in real time, Knight deftly overlaps the demands of wife, work and worried mother to bring forth Locke’s overwhelming sense of responsibility to be every bit the man his father failed to be for this unnamed newborn (a trait unfortunately played up in scenes where our lead has one-sided conversations with his absent dad in the rearview mirror, although maybe we can chalk up those asides to that cough syrup he’s been chugging). Maybe it’s not much of a movie cinematically speaking, but the proceedings still result in a taut, telling character study.

Hardy is of course the mighty glue which keeps the whole affair from falling apart. Rarely have we seen him play something resembling an everyman on screen, and yet his composed look and low temper belie a man who is doing nothing less than taking stock of his entire life and weighing his potential future from a seated, static position. The road may put Ivan Locke on a plainly linear path away from one family and towards another, but “Locke” affords its subject countless detours down which he might hope to turn it all around.

SCORE: 8.1 / 10

A24 Films will release "Locke" in theaters on April 25, 2014.