Locke is a British drama written and directed by Steven Knight. The film follows Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a successful construction foreman who is the supervisor on the largest concrete pour in all of Europe (taking place in Birmingham, UK). On the night before the pour (and the biggest challenge in his thriving career), he receives a call that causes him to get into his car and head to London, ultimately setting in motion a series of life-altering events that take place exclusively via phone calls during his drive.
Locke is single-handedly one of the greatest cinematic achievements that I have ever witnessed in my entire life. Given my adulation of it, it goes without saying that the fact it is “No. 2” on my countdown speaks volumes about my “No. 1” film. Below I will discuss in detail the specific aspects of this film that make it so incredibly stunning, but first, I must chat about the movie’s creator. Steven Knight is famous in cinematic circles across the Atlantic, with little relevance to the average American audience. Although he is most renowned exclusively as a screenwriter, my personal knowledge as to his work is only in regards to his directorial debut, which he also penned (Redemption—known everywhere other than America as Hummingbird). Although Redemption was ultimately no more than a solid 3-star film (per my observation, at least), I was obsessed with various aspects of its mise-en-scène, specifically Knight’s narrative style and visual themes. Nearly the entirety of Redemption is shot at night (just like Locke), and this technique is a particularly outstanding method for telling the British thriller. Despite the fact that Locke is billed as a drama, it plays more like a thriller, so Knight’s success with the nocturnal setting and matching thematic visual production in Redemption bodes well for the eventual success of the far-better Locke. Aside from performing so well in his role as the director of Locke, Knight has authored one of the most thrilling, dramatic scripts that I have ever seen. The execution of the written word by Tom Hardy is the greater achievement, but credit to Knight for his astounding work.
Three aspects of this film make it so extraordinary: (1) its restricted-narrative/limited-storytelling technique, (2) its temporal limitations and signposts, and (3) its stellar acting from Tom Hardy. Hardy’s performance in Locke is interspersed spectacularly throughout both of the first two aspects listed above, and I will integrate specific elements of his portrayal throughout the remainder of this analysis. Locke is the preeminent exposition of a restricted narrative (as the audience is with Hardy’s character exclusively for the entire movie in his SUV during his drive to London—you never see another character) and limited storytelling (as the plot takes place over the course of only a 90-minute period concerning essentially one central issue). These storytelling techniques evoke similarities to Phone Booth (2002), but the actual plot is different. Both Locke and Phone Booth are told seemingly in real time (in fact, the only breaks from continuous shooting in Locke came briefly in order to change the memory cards in the cameras), and this makes the story flow with straightforwardness. Locke’s greatest achievement is that it is even more thrilling than Phone Booth, and yet, its edge-of-the-seat nature is accomplished without violent, murderous circumstances. Even though the stakes, then, are not life-or-death, I would argue that Locke’s gripping circumstances are even more life-altering than that of Phone Booth—the execution of this is how Tom Hardy elevates his acting game to such incomparable heights.
The film’s time limitations and subsequent temporal signposts are additional aspects that set Locke apart from the rest of the year’s movies. As far as actual time constraints, the movie is a scant 84 minutes in duration; also, as mentioned earlier, the film was shot in nearly real time. I make note of these time constraints because it is amazing that so much dramatic excitement can be expounded upon so masterfully in such a limited time. More so than just being a physical time constriction, the movie’s duration plays out as an additional plot device to progress its exhilarating and dramatic elements—during his drive from Birmingham to London, Ivan continually updates (via phone calls) the object of his drive (a person that I will leave unnamed here for spoiler purposes) on how much time he has left before he reaches his destination. As he moves from “one hour away” to “thirty minutes away” to “fifteen minutes away,” the thrilling aspect of the story progresses accordingly, and as a viewer, you feel the pressure Ivan is under. Also, he engages in a series of phone calls with one of his sons who is anxiously awaiting his father’s arrival to watch an important football (soccer in the US) match. Given that Ivan is not home to watch, his son calls persistently to update his father on the game, specifically mentioning in each call how much time remains in the game. This is another way that Knight uses temporal signposts to further update the viewers about how much time Ivan has before his entire life comes crashing down—Knight truly is a storytelling virtuoso.
As far as Hardy’s acting performance, little can be said to do his work justice—it is utterly unexplainable. While discussing the work of Jessica Chastain (multiple times during this year’s blogging), I often state that in my opinion, she is the best actress currently working in Hollywood. When it comes to the best actor (as far as talent goes), Tom Hardy is absolutely her counterpart. If you have doubts about my label of Hardy as the industry’s best, I urge you to watch Bronson (2008; it is currently streaming on Netflix)—it was the single film that made me a strong believer in Hardy’s work as an actor. In each of his other films, he does an exceptional job—most of the time, he steals the show, even if he is simply a supporting character. Subjectively, I believe his role as Ivan Locke is the second greatest of his career (behind Bronson), but as a whole, Locke is a far superior film. Locke is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, so if you subscribe to that service, there is no excuse not to check it out. Locke is rated R for language throughout.
Locke trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdaofZfgV_Q
Academy Award nominations for Locke:
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:
- Starred Up
- The Theory of Everything
- Blue Ruin
- American Sniper
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Gone Girl
- The Lego Movie