One man in a car for 85 minutes. If Locke sounds like a stunt, that’s fair: Screenwriter Steven Knight’s sophomore directorial effort is the kind of formal exercise that conjures images of pitch meetings at BMW. Instead, the film’s a claustrophobic tragedy, as Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) drives toward a woman he hardly knows who’s about to have his baby, while handling the parallel disasters this gesture (noble or futile, depending) creates in his wake.
The self-imposed constraints occasionally intrude as Knight attempts to keep visual stakes high—wide shots add to the hypnotic rhythm of nighttime roads, but there are so many shots of the immediate environs to suggest Duel could break out any moment. However, an occasionally-nervous camera isn’t much of a drawback from a film otherwise so aware of its theatrical underpinnings (Waiting for Godot gets name-checked), so precisely structured and acted with such depth. Hardy’s risen on a mix of skillful acting and a surplus of charisma; in Locke, however, he manipulates even that. Ivan is quietly mesmerizing without ever calling attention to himself, quite a feat for a one-man set piece. He’s not entirely an island—the supporting cast delivers marvelous characterization by phone, particularly Olivia Colman as expectant mother Bethan and Andrew Scott as Donal, Ivan’s coworker, who provides the closest this movie comes to comedy relief. But Ivan is the locus of his various disasters; the mien and cadence he adopts with each of them is as revealing as the succession of tense conversations, and Hardy’s more than up to the task.
Together, the whole becomes an intensely human blend of administrative nightmares and family reckonings (plus Locke’s occasional inability to differentiate). It’s a movie without easy answers and a nuanced, affecting look at the helplessness and loneliness that can hover underneath constant connection.