Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) must juggle the collapse of his marriage, pacify the pleas of the woman about to give birth to his child, and oversee the preparation of a job that he has just left behind in order to be at the hospital – all of this he must do on the drive from Birmingham to London constrained to the phone in his car.
Ivan is a level-headed pragmatist whose efficiency is the evident force behind his success as a construction foreman. Though now, due to a one night stand with a woman he felt sorry for, he decides to be present for the birth, which means abandoning one of Europe’s biggest ever concrete pours for the base of a skyscraper. All we see of Ivan is how he interacts with others over the phone; how he deals with mounting levels of stress from all directions. Somehow – under the weight of overlapping crises – he maintains a rational distance that allows him to remain in control, even as events tear away from him and spiral.
Ivan shares his name with the Enlightenment age English philosopher John Locke, who supported the theory of the tabula rasa, or: the blank slate. This theory proposes that humans do not have inherent or innate qualities, that they are instead shaped by their own experience. In the case of nature vs. nurture the blank slate supports the latter. This is the defining feature of, and prime motivation for, Ivan. Between phone calls he is caught arguing with the spirit of his late father, raging at empty backseat through the rear-view mirror, as though he is being beckoned from beyond the grave to become a failure and a bad father. Ivan uses this fury as fuel to break the cycle of nature – to prove that he can decide his own fate and straighten the family name. Not only does he decide to be present for the birth, but he tasks himself with overseeing an enormous job that he will likely be fired from anyway. This does not matter, Ivan has set a precedent of loyalty that transcends the divide of business and personal, significantly painted with the metaphor of laying the foundation of a building. But as he states himself of the skyscraper, if cracks appear at the base, support is compromised and it becomes a threat.
Like the eponymous character, we too are locked in this situation; trapped in this single location for the journey. However, the film seems to not only be aware of this, but weary and apologetic, as it aims to keep things visually interesting by constantly cutting to external shots and various distracting angles. Shooting the entire film from start to finish in one take (or 37 minutes due to the capacity of the memory cards) and repeated two or three times a night for 6 days, the performance naturally has tension built into it’s construct and thus holds a pressure of it’s own. When permits to film on the M1 were revoked at the last minute, it is as though life was imitating art and echoing Ivan’s struggle to arrange road closures. Not only that, but the cold that Locke suffers is actually Hardy’s; the frustration that bursts out of Locke in reaction to the call waiting alert is Hardy’s too – actually reacting to the petrol gauge as it interrupted the drama and altered later in post-production. The tension of the film is palpable as it is, to some degree, real. Buried (2010), the single-location thriller released a few years prior, had a similar concept and incorporated a similar style, with sole actor Ryan Reynolds buried alive in a coffin experiencing a more life-threatening stress whilst other characters appear as voices in phonecalls. Focussed on a more extraordinary situation, this Hollywood film is suitably made into a spectacle through it’s set design which allowed this minimal space to be transformed. Locke, which is so gripping for its realism and its nuanced performance, does not need this escape or stylism. There is enough movement in frame to keep the your attention and Hardy offers a captivating performance in the subtlety of his acting: each micro-expression magnified by the intensity and intimacy of the camera. When Ivan first smiles it comes as a relief, it feels sincere and hard-earned and so we experience this same satisfaction. It seems that this could have all been heightened if the direction hadn’t taken attention elsewhere – it was as though the film’s strength was being treated as it’s weakness, and so it missed out on the payoff of its bold simplicity if it had simply let the action unfurl in longer, uncut takes. That being said, the tension is inescapable still, and the film is undoubtedly ambitious as it is. An impressive film that shows the capacity of film to do so much with so little.. and Tom Hardy.