You read that right. Locke, the claustrophobic drama set entirely in a car for 82 minutes, is the first 2014 movie to receive my highest rating. Let me be absolutely clear though. This does NOT mean that Locke is my favorite movie of the year, nor does it mean it is the best. What it means is that I found it to be a profound example of the simplicity of the art of cinema and it is fully deserving of my highest ranking. With that being said, let’s get into this review.
At only 85 minutes long, Locke is a small film made with simplistic ambitions by Steven Knight. The screenplay by Knight follows construction manager Ivan Locke who, on the night before the biggest cement pour in his career, has an emergency that he absolutely must attend to. He gets in his car, merges onto the M1 motorway from Birmingham and makes his way to London. The entire movie takes place inside his car during the hour and a half trip and documents his series of phone calls to his boss, wife, children, and the person who is waiting for him in London. I can’t give anything away. I can’t tell you who is in London or why. I can’t tell you what he experiences during his drive. I can’t tell you how the relationships between those on the other end of the phone connect together. So I will just tell you what I can. This is an extraordinarily simply film that deserves your attention and money.
Much like the 2010 film Buried, Locke is a one man show. As I previously mentioned, the movie follows Locke on his journey from Birmingham to London and it is just a series of phone calls. On paper, this could sound boring or uninvolving. I’m here to tell you that it really isn’t. Tom Hardy’s performance is impeccably brilliant. The man has been providing genuinely great performances for years now with movies like Bronson, Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Lawless, and the criminally underseen Warrior. His most popular role is easily that of Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, which was a brilliant summer epic and a worthy conclusion to a great trilogy and Tom Hardy worked wonders as the brute force that broke the Bat. And that’s the catch with Tom Hardy. He always plays physically imposing characters. Not in Locke. He remains seated for the entire movie and he must rely on his voice and facial ticks to carry his performance. He does a brilliant job. It’s the most calm and collected performance I’ve seen from Hardy and it suddenly goes in different areas when he hangs up the phone and is left by himself to release his inward rage. I can’t overstate it. Tom Hardy is absolutely brilliant.
But here is another element of Locke that makes it great. It’s a one man show about a man in his car making phone calls and it manages to make those characters on the other end have screen time. You may only hear the voice of Andrew Scott (Moriarty from the BBC series Sherlock), but you can certainly picture him as you hear his struggle to make things work while Ivan is away from the business. Ruth Wilson, Tom Holland, and Bill Milner may only provide voice work as Ivan’s family, but I swear they were actually acting out what they were supposedly doing on the other end. Broadchurch’s Olivia Coleman may only be talking through a phone, but you can see her in her predicament. It’s a magnificent accomplishment when a movie can feature characters that you never really see, but when it ends you know that you have truly seen them.
The script by Steven Knight (screenwriter of Eastern Promises, Closed Circuit, and The Hundred-Foot Journey, which just released this past weekend), is stunningly simple. It doesn’t need to be complex or offer up a twisty ending. It does exactly what it means to do and that is provide the audience with proof that simple cinema does still exist. And I am not saying that Locke is entirely original. Movies like Buried, which I mentioned earlier, also take place in a single setting. But we don’t get them very often, and hardly ever this good. The script takes this character of Ivan Locke and takes him on a journey in which he discovers parts of himself and others do too. The dialogue feels real and authentic, even in the scenes that don’t really affect the overall plot of the story. Some scenes of dialogue just exist for the purpose of showing two characters interacting and sorting things out, and it still remains interesting. Knight has written a great script that never feels boring or tired despite being dialogue driven.
Steven Knight has also done a great job at directing the movie, which can’t be easy given the small setting for the entire running time. I read that most of the scenes were filmed in real time as the car was hauled down the highway on a flatbed truck. I would have never guessed. I always believed it was Locke driving the car and it looked veritable. Also, I could not even dream of ending this review without praising the cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos. If you’re a fan of the way street lights and headlights look when through the lens of a camera, this is your movie. The way the camera captures Hardy in the car whilst the headlights behind him glow is gorgeously stunning and it hearkens back to the filming style of Michael Mann’s film Collateral with Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise. The lights are characters of their own just hovering in the backdrop of the picture.
I can almost guarantee you’ll be hearing about Locke again when I make my best of the year list. There isn’t anything negative that I can say about it. Tom Hardy is absolutely brilliant in the title role, the lighting is gorgeous, and the script finds a way to flesh out every single character (even the ones you never really see.) If you are in the company of someone who believes that movies can’t function without grand special effects and an enormous scale, show them Locke. It may just prove them wrong.
Rated R for language throughout
Cast: Tom Hardy
Writer: Steven Knight
Director: Steven Knight