When I wrote about John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 I made a small observation that a lot of the movies I’ve discussed on this blog were from 2013. As of writing this I have fifteen movies from 2013 on my to-watch list, and I’ve now seen five of them. I don’t know why 2013 was makes up so much of the list. 2015 is the only year that exceeds it with 19 movies. Maybe I just didn’t get out much those years.
Locke is a bottle movie starring Tom Hardy and a bunch of voices. It’s directed by Steven Knight, who wrote the fantastic Cronenberg film Eastern Promises, and follows the titular character of Ivan Locke in an hour and a half long drive down the M6 motorway in the United Kingdom. As the night goes on and more and more kilometers are being put between him and his home, Ivan’s life slowly begins unraveling around him.
Locke is sometimes described as a drama/ thriller, but honestly I would strictly call it a drama. It explores Ivan’s relationships with the different people in his life, from his wife and kids to his co-workers and more. The main vessel for the narrative of this film is Ivan’s conversations over the phone. Like I said earlier, Locke is a bottle movie taking place in Ivan’s BMW X5, but it distinguishes itself by also being a real-time and one-actor film. You’d think that sitting in a car with a single person talking over the phone for an hour and a half would be boring, but let Locke be further proof that Tom Hardy is one of the best actors working today. Hardy keeps you involved and engaged in the film despite it being a very simple, almost minimalist concept. He slips into the role of Ivan Locke so well you feel like he’s a real person dealing with real problems.
While Locke has a fairly simple story, it’s main source of conflict seems a bit muddled at first watch. Going into this film you should be prepared for more of a character study than a plot-driven story. The film examines Ivan Locke in a moment of isolation, stuck between organizing one of the biggest moments in his career and facing the consequences of one of his biggest mistakes at the same time. Ivan is a project manager for a construction company which is preparing to do the UK’s biggest concrete pour ever, but the night before this huge event he’s motoring down the M6 because he’s about to have another child. Nine months ago, Ivan cheated on his wife and had a one night stand with a woman named Bethan. Tonight, Bethan’s water broke, and the baby is Ivan’s. All the while, some errors and oversights in tomorrow’s pour start bubbling to the surface. See? Things get a little messy, with any one of these issues being suitable for your average drama. We have Ivan dealing with having a child out of wedlock, trying to make sure his project runs smoothly, and balancing the two of them without cracking from the pressure, all while racing down the motorway late at night.
So if Locke is a character study of our eponymous hero, what is his character? First off, Ivan isn’t a hero. Ivan is complex. He’s a good man, but is clearly flawed. Regardless of what happens to him, Ivan stays level headed. He never raises his voice to anyone he speaks to, regardless of how heated the other person gets or what they might say to aggravate him. He keeps his emotions compartmentalized, not letting the stress of one situation bleed over into another.
Ivan is constantly trying to do what he believes is the right thing. Even the setting of the movie, his car being driven to the hospital Bethan is delivering in, is an example of him “doing the right thing”. Ivan believes that since he made the mistake of getting Bethan pregnant, he needs to be there for her when the baby comes and help her take care of it. Obviously his wife is less than excited about finding out that Ivan both cheated on her and is having a child outside of their relationship, but Ivan understands that leaving the child fatherless is not something he would do. He accepts the consequences of his actions and takes them head on understanding that this is something that might very well end his marriage and ruin his relationship with his wife and two current boys. We can see where this all stems from in Ivan as throughout the film when we aren’t listening in on his phone calls or being subject to Knight’s hypnotic filming of the M6, Ivan has one sided conversations with his presumably dead father whom he imagines is sitting in the back seat. Clearly Ivan had a bad relationship with his father who seemed to be absent from most of his life, and he wants to make sure he doesn’t end up like his old man when dealing with his new child.
When it comes to the career side of his problems, Ivan handles everything with professionalism and a level head. Again, stemming from his father, Ivan feels like he has something to prove, sticking with the project no matter what goes wrong along the way. It comes across strong as early on in the film Ivan is fired from his managerial position for bailing on the pour to go to the hospital, but goes around his supervisor’s back to ensure everything runs without a hitch anyways. From ensuring the engineers use the correct type of concrete to emergency rebar replacements, Ivan feels need to prove, even if just to himself, that he can still see this project through to the end.
So, is Ivan a good person? Like anyone in this world, it depends who you ask. And that to me is what makes Locke such an interesting movie. Ivan feels so real; his problems, encounters, and reactions so relatable (and so well acted by Hardy) that he feels like he can’t be a work of fiction. You really connect with Ivan and understand both his problems and how he tries to solve them throughout the movie. Would I recommend Locke? Absolutely. It’s by no means the best film ever, nor even the best film Tom Hardy has been in, but it is by far the best and most subtle of Hardy’s performances that I’ve seen, and that paired with Knight’s simple but beautiful cinematography keeps you engaged for the entire length of the movie. That being said, you need to be in a certain headspace to really appreciate Locke. If you have even an inkling of desire for action or a fast paced script when you boot up Netflix, you’re going to have a bad time. It’s a slow, low intensity movie, but it’s worth the eventual watch. Just make sure you’re in the right mood before you hit play.