Imagine a screenplay being pitched to potential backers by its writer and hopeful director. Almost the entire film takes place in an automobile traveling from Birmingham to London at night. While there are several characters, only one appears on-screen — in practically every scene. He speaks with the other characters through his hands-free mobile phone setup.
Now imagine that you are one of the backers. After hearing the pitch, would you think that this film would play well on-screen?
If you were in Hollywood, your answer would likely be “No.” In the case of “Locke” (2013), you would be wrong.
This claustrophobic independent film from British writer-director Steven Knight succeeds in part due to the performance of its lead actor. Tom Hardy plays the role of Ivan Locke so intensely that the viewer quickly forgets that s/he is watching an actor in a movie. Hardy inhabits Locke’s character so completely that the viewer is blissfully unaware that s/he is viewing a one-man show. Every choice made — the Welsh accent, the facial expressions, the intensely practical discussions about the concrete pour, the subtly played emotions in conversation with his wife and sons, the maniacal ranting at the ghost of his father — is an excellent one.
This film also succeeds because of brilliant cinematography and editing. The viewer forgets that the set is the interior of a BMW because of the way in which the film-makers use that set in the framing of various shots (mise-en-scène) and the way that the film portrays narrative progress both inside and outside the automobile (montage).
Finally, this is a story-driven film. Locke’s decisions, while they come from a considerable strength of will, also derive from the circumstances (both current and past) of his life. We understand his character from his actions during the film, but we also see how he became who he is from the back-story that he reveals in the conversations in which he engages. Most of these dialogues are with others, but some are with himself (including those in which he addresses his father). Thus, the story is, in fact, driven by the character — as it should be.
As with most films I review, I am late to the party on “Locke.” Moreover, I haven’t said anything that hasn’t already been said about it by others. Unlike with other films I have seen and reviewed recently, however, I can’t find anything about this one that I don’t like. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars on Rotten Tomatoes.