“I have no choice,” is the only answer Ivan Locke can seem to produce as he’s berated with questions from his colleague Donal over the phone. “Why are you doing this? Is a family member dead? Don’t you know you’ll get sacked?” are variations of his questions in response to Ivan’s informing him that he will not be in attendance for the biggest concrete pour of the year happening the next day. As foreman for the construction site of a major skyscraper, Ivan must oversee this pour as it will become the base for the building. Everyday of construction following the pour is hinged on the success of this pour. So why, on this quiet night after work, is Ivan driving to a hospital in Croydon and not home for a good night’s rest? Well, because he has no choice.
In Steven Knight’s Locke, Tom Hardy plays the title character, expertly adopting a Welsh accent in the process, as well as dawning a reddish beard. The film opens up on an aerial shot of a construction site for what looks to become a massive building, the site is complex and unfinished. The slow camera sweep over the top of the site highlights its complexities. Knight, through the steady camerawork by Haris Zambarloukos, wants us to focus on this site in the opening. As tension builds throughout the film within the cramped vehicle, we are reminded of that vast, messy entanglement of concrete and electric wiring that symbolizes the importance of Ivan’s job. Knight, who is mostly known for his writing (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things), penned this script as well as directed. The idea of an unfinished building can hardly build tension when examined at face value, but Knight accentuates this aspect by showing the audience an unfinished site from the get-go. As the story progresses, the stress he feels from the worksite he’s abandoning becomes understandable because the audience has actually seen it.
Immediately following this camera sweep is a hard cut to workbooks hitting metal grating. We are introduced to the story from above looking down, then all of a sudden brought back down to Earth. The peaceful sweep was harshly interrupted, much like the seemingly peaceful sweep of Ivan’s life before he was interrupted by the news that set this story into action. In Locke, Ivan must drive to a hospital in Birmingham because he is expecting the birth of his child. The pour he is supposed to oversee is the next day and an important soccer match that his sons want to watch with him must be dealt with accordingly as he will miss them both. A methodical and efficient problem solver, Ivan should be able to handle this issue with ease. The only problem is that his wife isn’t in the hospital going into labor, she’s at home awaiting his arrival. The lady birthing Ivan’s child is a lonely colleague that he had a one night stand with. The film then follows Ivan in his BMW as he makes the trip, calling both home and work to make arranges (and excuses) for his sudden absence. He barely knows this woman, yet he’s choosing to collectively destroy his family and career by being by her side. He still loves his wife; at one point the mistress, Bethan (Olivia Coleman), asks Ivan if he loves her to which he replies: “That’s a question you’re asking probably because of the pain or something. How could I love you?” He’s not lying to be cruel, it’s the nature of his character. He won’t give false comfort. He’s a man of his word, and lying to her just to ease her anxieties for a short period of time would be wrong in his eyes.
That’s the beauty of this film. It’s in the juxtaposition of calm and crazed. Hardy’s performance is one of calm and collected. He handles each rabid voice over his car-phone with gentle steadiness and refuses to blow up when most people would. The stress is real for him and it’s evident in his haunting eyes, every now and then catching the shimmer of a streetlight. This juxtaposition is also evident in the decision to stay with Hardy in the car throughout the film. If one was to just think of the film’s physical setting it would seem stress free: a quiet night drive after a long day’s work with light traffic and open space beyond the highway. However, bring in all the complications that build upon one another and the tension rises exponentially. A tranquil drive suddenly turns into madness between stressful phone calls. To make matters more interesting, occasionally during breaks in phone conversation, Ivan converses with his dead father—depicted as Ivan’s reflection in the rearview mirror. The flaw in this film that also gives the main character his motive, is these semi-delusional interactions with a dead man. I believe they over-serve their purpose. Ivan’s fragile relationship with his father could’ve been explicated through an initial conversation of this nature, but then discontinued, until possibly the end when he can have some potential closure. Or it could’ve been explored through a potential argument with his wife when she mentions his father’s abandoning of him. Those are just some thoughts but, that being said, I didn’t have any contention with the heavy dialogue within the film. Given the static nature of the film, this seemed appropriate.
Along with his work on the opening camera sweep, Zambarloukos’s cinematography, combined with Justine Wright’s editing, aided in the thought-provoking feel of this film. The cuts to the outside of the car, to the streetlights, to the signs on the highway all lend a sense relatable to a breath of fresh air in the consumption of this story. Not to say that the action inside of the car is by any means suffocating, but relief from the tension was appreciated. It’s like any form of comic relief in a serious drama or horror film. Zambarloukos’s soothing shots of the outside world, expertly given centerstage at each given opportunity by Wright’s editing, enhanced the flow of the narrative in my opinion. This, to me, is what separates Lockefrom a film such as Rodrigo Cortés’s Buried (2010). In this film, Ryan Reynolds is buried inside a casket underground throughout the whole film. In that aspect it shares a quality with Knight’s film. However, the camera doesn’t remain in the car the whole time as it does within the coffin in Cortés’s film. The cuts away from action let the story breath. This allows for moments of high tension to sink in and permits the audience to project their perspective on the moment.
Knight’s minimalist experiment proved to be a feat of cinematic craftsmanship as he masterfully constructed a narrative that could have been fit for the stage. Shot on three Red Epic cameras, the tight shots are brought to life by Zambarloukos with incredible depth. The low-level lighting and shadow play from the world just outside of the vehicle lend the film a realist quality. Also notable is how Hardy’s full beard plays with foreshadowing as were introduced to him. Save for his role as Bane, Hardy’s image as an actor is in part revolved around his finely structured facade. The reaction by the audience when they first see him might be one of slight surprise and lacking recognition. This feeling that something is off plays into a larger role within the narrative in relation Ivan’s character. He has a secret to hide. The way in which the audience and Ivan’s family finds out that secret is what Steven Knight eloquently constructed into Locke. Watch this film, you have no choice.