BY MATT BARONE | APR 25, 2014 | 9:42 AM
Directed by British screenwriter turned shotcaller Steven Knight, Locke is the epitome of cinematic minimalism. Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a construction manager who gets into the driver's seat of his BMW the night before he's supposed to oversee the biggest concrete pour in Europe's history. But that's the last thing on Locke's mind. As his wife and teenage son call him on the BMW's dashboard phone system, Locke heads down the M5 motorway en route to London, where an older woman he had a one-night stand with is about to give birth to their out-of-wedlock baby. And for nearly 85 minutes straight, Knight's cameras remain inside the car and focus on Locke as he battles through a whirlwind of emotions and comes to terms with the awful way he's about to rip his family apart, not to mention put his successful career in jeopardy.
Indeed, Locke is simply Tom Hardy in a car for a little less than 90 minutes, and it's amazingly captivating and intense. Behind the camera, Knight does a fine job adding unforeseen dimensions and raw energy to his single, claustrophobic location. But let's not get it twisted—Tom Hardy is the film's undeniable MVP.
Nearly matching the beguiling brilliance of his strange Bane voice, Hardy gives Ivan Locke a somewhat exaggerated but consistently pitch-perfect Welsh accent. Why? Hell if I know, but it's an inspired choice, one that exemplifies Hardy's singular risk-taking decisions as an actor. He sports a scruffy beard that undercuts his natural-born handsomeness, lending the character a jovial-neighbor-next-door appeal that's absent in every role he's played before Ivan Locke. He owns all of Knight the screenwriter's dialogue, transmitting an array of feeling, from overwhelming sadness to on-edge anger and manufactured calmness, through little more than facial expressions.
There's a point in Locke where the film nearly jumps the shark, or, for a more appropriate metaphor, crashes the figurative car. Knight mixes pieces of Locke's back-story into his phone conversations, hinting at a painful relationship with his now-deceased father. In the beginning of his trip, Locke swigs medicine to fight a head cold, and after one swallow too many, he begins to imagine that his dad is riding in the BMW's backseat. Fortunately, there isn't an actor playing Locke's own Dexter-like "dark passenger"—Hardy just talks to himself in the rear-view mirror.
It's a potentially silly move on Knight's part, and had he cast a lesser actor to pull off such inherently goofy scenes, Knight could have derailed the entire production. Hardy, however, taps back into the skill he employed to turn Charles Bronson's straight-to-the-camera monologues into towering moments of sheer force, though that specific talent is downplayed in Locke. In Knight's vehicle, he makes his character's fiery but overcooked talk of joining his pops in heaven sound beautifully wrenching.