By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
In “Locke,” a man drives a car for the 85-minute duration of the film. He is not being chased, nor is there a ticking bomb in the back seat. He isn’t headed for an international border with a suitcase packed with gold, or dying of radiation poisoning and trying to reach the antidote.
He drives the car. He talks on the telephone. That’s it.
Why did I find this movie compelling? For one thing, I have a fondness for films in close quarters, like “Rear Window.” For another, the actor who occupies the driver’s seat is Tom Hardy.
We hear other peoples’ voices, but Hardy—as a building contractor named Ivan Locke—is the only person on screen. Having gotten a reputation for sculpting his physique for movies such as “Inception,” “Warrior” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Hardy uses his body here almost not at all.
But he’s got his face, bathed in the glow of the dashboard and the flicker of street lights. And he’s got a peculiarly buttery (Welsh-accented?) voice that becomes hypnotic as he juggles his problems.
And he does have problems — maybe not the bomb in the back seat, but problems. Locke is driving to London at night. His wife and two sons expect him at home to watch soccer. His colleagues expect him at the location north of London where they’re about to pour concrete the next morning for a huge building project—and he’s the expert in such things.
Instead, he’s driving to London to see another woman. He does not love this woman — a point that becomes crucial during his conversations with her — but he feels compelled to join her.
The guy goes from conversation to conversation, putting out fires and digging his grave. He’s also drinking cough syrup and maybe getting slightly stoned, which could explain the imaginary conversations he has with his father.
Director Stephen Knight, who penned the screenplays for “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Eastern Promises,” has gone “all in” on the simplicity of the set-up. It’s the only way — flashbacks or cutaways to the other characters would’ve dissipated the mood.
Except for a resolution that feels forced and sentimental, “Locke” sustains its interest — as long as you can go with this kind of thing. If you expect action, or some kind of big drama, you will be looking for a refund by the halfway mark.
Above all, the film’s a tour-de-force for an actor. Hardy soothingly repeats certain lines like mantras (“I will take care of it. … The traffic is OK”), and we get a glimpse of someone who’s spent his life being organized and in control. For one night, he’s losing it a little. That’s enough drama to carry this exercise in minimalism.
The movie consists entirely of one man driving in a car at night. So be advised. But watching this harried fellow juggle his many personal problems becomes an interesting spectacle, and Tom Hardy is absolutely fascinating as the only person who appears on screen.
Rating: R, for language
Opens: Friday at the Harvard Exit.