D: Steven Knight / 85m
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner
Movies where there is only one central character are notoriously difficult to pull off, and there are very few movies where there is only a single character for the audience to connect with, without anyone else impinging on the set up, either through a telephone call, or a flashback, or an imagined exchange. There’s also the difficulty connected with keeping that one character in a single location – e.g. Colin Farrell in Phone Booth (2002), Ryan Reynolds in Buried (2010) – and Locke is no different. When we first meet Ivan Locke (Hardy), he’s leaving work and getting into his car. Once he’s behind the wheel we learn that he’s on his way to London (from where isn’t fully disclosed) where a woman, Bethan (Colman), he had a one night stand with is having his child.
Ivan is a man who needs to be in control. He has a list of phone calls he has to make while he heads for London. The people on the list includes his wife, Katrina (Wilson), his boss Gareth (Daniels), a colleague, Donal (Scott), and of course, Bethan. In making these calls he’s looking to make sure a variety of things are taken care of: his marriage, the pouring of a major load of concrete the next morning at the building project he’s been working on, and that Bethan – who he regards as “fragile” – follows the doctors and nurses’ advice during her labour.
For Ivan, making the journey to be with Bethan is both an inconvenience and an obligation, but an obligation that he’s determined to go through with. Bethan is in her early forties and all alone, and to an extent, Ivan feels sorry for her, but the main reason he’s determined to be at her side is due to the mistakes his father made when Ivan was born. At odd times during the journey, Ivan talks to his father as if he were travelling with him, and he’s nothing less than vitriolic in his scorn for the man. However, even with this, his commitment to Bethan – the crux of the movie – seems forced and doesn’t really convince.
His relationship with his wife is problematical as well. For such a pragmatic, practical man, Ivan is sure that Katrina will forgive him as it’s “the only time” he’s ever slept with someone else, and there was a lot of booze involved. Katrina is understandably horrified by her husband’s revelation, and while his two sons watch a football match he was expected home for downstairs, she shuts herself away upstairs trying to make sense of what Ivan’s saying, and what she should do next. Ivan’s naiveté is at odds with his confidence in other aspects of his life, though whether he knows Katrina might leave him is open to question, and even when he speaks to his sons (Holland, Milner) he maintains a positive outlook that he can’t be sure of.
But Ivan’s personal issues take a back seat to his determination to ensure that the pour planned for the next morning goes ahead as arranged. Unable to be there in person he entrusts the details – including checking rebars, the mix, road closures – to subordinate Donal. At first, Donal is petrified of the responsibility but through a mix of cajolement and bullying Ivan persuades him to see things through. At the same time he fields calls from his boss, Gareth (called Bastard in his phone’s contact list), who has been forced by Ivan’s unexpected absence to inform their bosses in Chicago. Ivan expects to be fired, but he has decided to ensure the pour goes ahead without a hitch irrespective of his bosses’ decision, and as a matter of personal pride. He keeps in touch with Donal throughout the journey, and as problems arise, coaxes Donal through each one until they’re dealt with.
Locke is a difficult movie to categorise. Ostensibly it’s a drama about one man’s attempts to deal with a crisis of conscience, and there are certain thriller elements, but it’s also an emotional roller coaster ride as each time Ivan’s phone rings the audience is on tenterhooks as to what’s coming next. It’s this involvement that helps the movie tremendously. As conceived by writer/director Steven Knight, Ivan Locke is a hard man to empathise with, and spending almost an hour and a half with him isn’t easy. His insistence on being with Bethan makes no real sense, and the justification for it – not repeating the sins of his father – feels arch and ill-conceived. His devotion to the pour shows him at his most animated and motivated, while his handling of the calls to and from Katrina are conducted as if he were dealing with someone he doesn’t know (or maybe even care about). He’s also unable to reassure Bethan on anything but a superficial level, and is dismissive of her with the hospital staff.
As portrayed by Hardy, Ivan’s dour exterior and closed-off emotions are effectively portrayed. Adopting a soft Welsh accent, Hardy is hypnotic, and while he’s not on screen the entire time – Knight intersperses shots of the motorways Ivan travels along with interior shots looking out as well as Ivan shot from different angles – his performance is a bravura one, with not a false note throughout. Colman and Wilson offer solid support, but it’s Scott who wins the vocal plaudits, Donal being a memorable creation all by himself (look out for the conversation about cider). In the director’s chair, Knight adds a kineticism to the journey that grabs the audience and never lets go, but can’t quite make up visually for the contradictions and anomalies in Ivan’s character.
Rating: 7/10 – at times gripping, but with a worrying tendency to underplay its main character’s reluctance to engage emotionally, Locke is often tense and nerve-wracking; a shame then that Ivan Locke is not someone you’d any more time with than necessary.