LOCKE (2014, Steven Knight)
Movies set entirely in one location with one actor always risk being too on-the-nose. But when they succeed, they offer creative new ways to tell stories and are often surprisingly gripping. The best recent example of this was 2010’s BURIED, an unlikely Ryan Reynolds vehicle that became a profound anti-war drama shot with incredible grace by DP Eduard Grau (he of the gob-smacking A SINGLE MAN) for director Rodrigo Cortes. Unlike Reynolds alone in a coffin, Tom Hardy in LOCKE is alone in a car — a car that’s hurtling down a freeway and loaded with Beamer comforts like perfectly-working bluetooth. And while the obvious metaphor is a man confined in space, painted into a corner but unable to stop while heading in one direction, writer/director Knight’s story does reveal enough shades to let that metaphor sink in and work nicely.
The situation is distinctly dramatic (Hardy’s character is involved in both a family and career crisis, with limited time to address both), but Knight finds room for humor as well — Hardy’s second-in-command at work, with whom he’s often on the phone during his drive, is a spastic Irishman played by Andrew Scott in what is the best voice-only performance since HER. And even when a line is meant to be heart-breaking, Hardy delivers it with a darkly comic reality: when asked by his son whether he is coming home, he responds. “Absolutely! Hopefully.”
But the best line in the film reveals the crux of the issue — what being alive in this world means, and whether it’s all worth it. A lot of movies (especially a lot of recent films, e.g. ENEMY) have been hitting hard the male fear of parenthood, and LOCKE throws in a healthy dose of daddy issues. Not only is Hardy’s character about to become a father again, but spends a lot of his drive addressing his shitty absent father in soliloquies directed at a ghost in the backseat (and this is the film’s worst digression). Yet whereas many new dads may say “I’m about to become a father, awesome!” or “I’m nervous but I have created life!” Hardy says “Someone is being brought into this world, and it’s my fault.” The idea that giving birth is perpetrating a crime upon the newborn is a dark and cruel one, sold magnificently by an actor who needs to command leading roles like this far more often. Masked up as Bane in a comic book blockbuster does Hardy’s face and mannerisms a disservice — he’s at his best when he’s cool, measured, and intelligently understated. This is one of his best performances to date (even stronger in my mind than BRONSON or WARRIOR) and Knight — who ladles on music too thick and too often, but who shoots the car and its windows and the dark night whipping past with smooth skill — serves him well. Ivan Locke is a fascinating character, and it’s Tom Hardy’s fault.