Locke is another example of the single actor, single location approach in features, which seem to be gaining steam recently. Like Buried, 127 Hours, Wrecked and even Phone Booth, the entire runtime takes place in one small location while the story revolves around a single character. These projects are great opportunities for actors, since they allow them to basically present one-man shows on the silver screen. With only one location to work with, they can also keep a pretty modest budget, regardless of the star power on display.
Taking advantage of the claustrophobic possibilities of such a limitation, these films are usually thrillers that depict a life-or-death calamity for our protagonist. In Buried, Ryan Reynolds tries to stay alive after finding himself buried alive inside a coffin. In 127 Hours, James Franco tries to stay alive after a boulder crushes his arm. In Phone Booth, Colin Farrel tries to stay alive… You get the idea. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see the same approach used to construct a dramatic character study.
The entirety of the film follows Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a straight-laced construction manager with a loving family, as he drives to a very important destination. No, it’s not a life or death situation, at least not in the immediate physical sense.
He has knocked up a woman after a single night of infidelity and he’s decided to drive overnight to London in order to be there when his newborn opens his eyes. Through a series of phone calls, he tries to explain the situation to his family while instructing his inexperienced assistant (Andrew Scott) through the biggest concrete pouring job in England’s history. That, in a nutshell, represents Locke in its entirety.
It was written and directed by Steven Knight, who’s done mostly screenwriting work (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things). This is a writer’s film, with more focus on character and performance than visual flair.
The entire screenplay was shot in a single take with Hardy in the car interacting with the voice actors in real time. This process was repeated multiple times, almost like recording various performances of a play. The resulting film was cut together using a mixture of these performances.
This approach by Knight pays off in spades. Since Hardy is asked to live through the character’s entire emotional journey in one go instead of capturing one little snippet at a time, the progression of the character’s various states of mind becomes that much more palpable and immediate.
At the end of the day Locke is a film about control. Hardy presents a man who keeps his cool in even the harshest of situations. Even when his professional and personal lives are torn to bits, he maintains his hypnotic and monotone demeanor while still holding out hope beyond all hope that he’s eventually going to make everything right.
The construction job will be completed without a hitch, his family will take him back with open arms and he’ll arrange a deal regarding his newborn that will be beneficial for both parents. Yet as he keeps driving on that dark, unforgiving highway, he slowly realizes how one seemingly small decision can completely change the course of someone’s life. The film’s perfect ending reminds us what The Rolling Stones said so many years ago, we might not always get what we want, but sometimes we get what we need.
Powered immensely by Steven Knight’s excellent writing and Tom Hardy’s mesmerizing performance, Locke is an honest and insightful character study.