Director: Steven Knight; Screenwriter: Steven Knight; Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Tom Holland; Running time: 85 minutes; Certification: 15
There’s clearly something to these single-setting, single-character experimental scripts floating around the ether of the film world. The general rule of thumb seems to be if, as an actor, you take on one of these roles, it will be the best – or at least one of the best – performances of your career. Ryan Reynolds proved it with the enormously uncomfortable but brilliant Buried, in which he spent the entire film trapped inside a coffin six feet under, attempting to contact the outside world for help on a mobile phone with rapidly diminishing juice. James Franco was brilliant in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, in which he spent about 90% of the running time trapped under a rock. And more recently, Robert Redford tucked into a meaty role in All Is Lost, in which he played a sailor lost at sea, as literally the only character either seen or heard (I’m yet to see that one, but I’ve heard he’s fantastic).
Now it’s Tom Hardy’s turn to sink his claws into something equally meaty, to challenge himself with the task of carrying an entire film without so much as standing up. We already know Hardy’s a great actor and it’s not like he needs to do any more to prove it (in the case of something like Buried, that was the first time we saw what Reynolds was really capable of and that he wasn’t just Van Wilder), but Locke does go a certain distance in reminding us just how good he actually is. Arguably his best performance to date, the inevitability that some people may think he hardly has anything to do is superseded by the fact that, actually, he has everything to do.
Hardy basically holds the film together every step of the way. The burden of having to remain compelling and convincing in every single frame and drive the story forward at the same time is a heavy one, and even with the talent that Hardy has – pretty much making it look simple – I would bet there are a number of actors who wouldn’t go near it. His best trick, in fact, is drawing the audience in enough to make them forget that, actually, he’s the only person there. By the twenty-minute mark we’ve already signed the contract. We’re completely invested in this character and quite happy to stay with him. Even his funny Welsh accent, which at first sounds a bit like Bane without the mask, quickly just becomes part of him.
As brilliant as Hardy is, the writing deserves equal plaudits. Writer/director Steven Knight’s greatest achievement with Locke is his confidence to stick to his simple set-up right until the end and never waver into Hollywood-inflected thriller. Essentially we witness the unravelling of a man’s life over the space of one car journey through a series of phone calls to his work, family and other various people. Knight’s ability to craft phone conversations about domestic disputes then swiftly change to concrete pouring and road closures and make them completely enthralling is extraordinary. There are essentially three story strands being explored, and with just that we’re painted a clear picture of a man’s life, and shown how delicately it hangs on a precipice as it crumbles beneath him. A very, very strong writing sample.
Locke is one of the most interesting, unique and subversive films in recent years. Perhaps it’s doomed to be misunderstood by sections of the audience, but it’s an absolute exhibition in storytelling and character development with a completely brilliant central performance from Tom Hardy. Long car journeys have never been so compelling.