• Country of production: UK
  • Year: 2013
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Steven Knight
  • Running time: 85 minutes

Locke is a uniquely gripping thriller from Oscar-nominated writer-director STEVEN KNIGHT. It is shot in ground-breaking style, following one man, Ivan Locke (TOM HARDY), as he races from Birmingham to London, where a woman with whom he had a one-night stand is giving birth to his child. In real time we follow his desperate attempts, in phone calls with his wife, sons and work colleagues, to prevent his life falling apart. ‘This ingeniously executed study in cinematic minimalism has depth, beauty and poise’ (Leslie Felperin, Variety), and won the British Independent Film Award for Best Film last year, with Hardy nominated for Best Actor.

Tom Hardy best known for roles in blockbusters such as Inception (2010) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) plays an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. He has not yet told his wife Katrina (voiced by RUTH WILSON) about his infidelity when he learns that lonely singleton Bethan (OLIVIA COLMAN) is going into labour prematurely.

Locke is a construction foreman and matters are complicated by the fact that early the next morning he had been due to supervise a massive ‘pour’ of concrete for the foundations of a skyscraper – one of the biggest building projects in Europe – involving deliveries from 218 trucks. He has to hand the gargantuan job over to his hapless junior Donal (played with comic relish by ANDREW SCOTT – Moriarty in the BBC's Sherlock) and talk him through what to do over the phone. Meanwhile his bosses want him off the job for going away at such a critical time.

While everyone else panics, sobs or shouts, Locke maintains an implacable calm. He raises his soothing Welsh voice only to berate his late father, whom he imagines he sees in the rear-view mirror, and sheds tears only when his sons ask, “Are you coming home, Dad?”

The fine script and editing, Hardy’s charisma and the hypnotic effect of the beautiful camera work by award-winning director of photography Haris Zambarloukos make this a powerful and deeply cinematic drama.

The film is Knight's second feature as writer-director and marks a departure from action thriller Hummingbird (2013) and his screenplays for gritty London dramas Dirty Pretty Things (2002) and Eastern Promises (2007) and for last year’s acclaimed TV series Peaky Blinders.




‘The film picks up on the intuition of Iggy Pop’s song The Passenger – that driving at night is a form of cinema – but gives it a twist. Car window cinema is normally a soothingly passive experience; here it’s the visual soundtrack to a man’s world being turned upside down.’

(Lee Marshall, Screen International)

Eponymous lead Ivan Locke, an archetypal everyman, gets into his car and sets off to drive home from the building site where he works. The film will show him driving and talking on the phone for the next 80 minutes. From this unlikely premise, writer-director Steven Knight draws a movie of considerable impact. ‘The traffic is light. There are no car chases and no car crashes, and no one else appears on screen. Around half of the dialogue is about concrete. It’s one of the most nail-biting thrillers of the year’ (Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph).

Well constructed

Knight’s stripped-down script ‘could barely be more taut and spare’ (Dave Calhoun, Time Out) and the story is carefully engineered. ‘Brilliantly written,.. Knight’s achievement is to tell a story in which the lead character’s life unravels completely without any face-to-face screaming matches or scenes of fights’ (Geoffrey Macnab, Sight & Sound).

Locke’s determination to do the “right thing” is reinforced by memories of his feckless and largely absent father. That relationship is rendered through Locke's conversations with his imagined dad, a metaphorical back-seat-driver in his life. “I will do what has to be done, whether they love me or hate me,” Locke proclaims, like a hero from a classic western. ‘The admiration we feel for Ivan by the end of the film is the same admiration we feel for so many of cinema’s tragic, noble heroes, who walk to their fate with their eyes wide open’ (Lee Marshall, Screen International).

Poetry in motion

Locke's conversations may be down-to-earth but are nonetheless imbued with poetry; not just in Hardy's rich vocal cadences, but in the way he describes what he is about, and especially his work: “You do it for the piece of sky we are stealing,” he explains. The unexpected music in his voice nods to Richard Burton in Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood and, just as in the famous 1954 radio play with its omniscient narrator, we are witness to the unfolding lives of ordinary people, made extraordinary by circumstance.

The action is played out entirely on Locke's face and in the voices on the telephone. Hardy’s performance as Locke is all the more powerful for its measured restraint. He ‘conveys a lot with little outward display of emotion. But the shattering toll of Locke’s actions is written all over his face as he accepts his fate. It’s an extraordinary piece of acting’ (David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter).

The supporting cast, too, craft convincing, rounded characters. Though unseen, they are ‘remarkably vivid... [Ruth] Wilson takes Katrina from bewildered to violated to enraged and intransigent over a number of agitated calls, while [Olivia] Colman’s Bethan is needy and manipulative in ways that are all too human’ (David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter).

The look of Locke

The film’s execution is also spare, so much so ‘that one needn’t be a tech-credit geek to appreciate the quality of craftsmanship on display,’ wrote Leslie Felperin in Variety. Saying that ‘every artistic decision seems precise and correct’, she compared ‘the painstaking modulations in focus in Haris Zambarloukos’s lensing’ with the car metal and street-light reflections in Michael Mann’s Oscar-nominated Collateral (2004).

The alienating isolation of driving at night provides the perfect prism through which to observe Locke’s world imploding, noted David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter. The stream of car and road lights is mesmerising and seems to reflect Locke’s contemplation of his life and his predicament.

Despite the claustrophobic setting and the leanness of the story-telling, Locke’s conversations call into being a rich and vital world in viewers’ minds. ‘This is a masterclass in how the most local, most hemmed-in stories can reverberate with the power of big, universal themes,’ said Dave Calhoun in Time Out.





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