★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Steven Knight, “Locke” strips away the glamour of modern storytelling—fancy twists designed to make the audience feel that what they are sitting through is “smart,” putting the camera in so-called creative positions to simulate realism, hyperactive, tough- and trash-talking dialogue in place of true insight or substance—and focuses on a performance: Tom Hardy playing a man who will come to lose just about everything he has ever valued in a span of less than an hour and a half.
To shoot the film at night is a masterstroke. Imagine if it had been shot during the day. Because the scope of the film is small in terms of space, almost the entirety of it taking place inside a car, it is only natural that our eyes tend to wander for more stimulation. In other words, there would have been more distraction. Here, though there are lights and other vehicles outside, our eyes focus on the driver and how he deals with increasingly difficult calls—calls from his family, co-workers, and acquaintances.
The source of the gravitational pull is Hardy’s allure. Here is an actor known to transform his body and uses it as an instrument to create a compelling character—sometimes someone who we may not necessarily want to know at first glance. This is one of the few roles in which Hardy looks like a “normal” person, someone we can see walking down the street or in line at the grocery store—and we are reminded how good he really is. There is a parallel: a film stripped to its bare essentials starring an actor with nothing to hide behind.
Like all great performers, Hardy appears to be aware of every muscle on his face—especially the eyes—and he knows how to extract the most minuscule emotions necessary to be convincing in whatever he wishes to convey. Take the conversation in which the other person on the other line (Ben Daniels) is yelling at the top of his lungs. Though Hardy chooses his character to speak back with a tone of calm, notice the tension in his posture and limbs. Look at the way his face tightens at just the right moments. What results is a believable character who is mentally checking himself. He knows that if he lost his temper as well, it would not help the predicament that he was in.
There are movies, when reviewed, that require the plot to be summarized. To take on the same approach to “Locke” is a mistake because it is, for the most part, about discovery—just as the character may know who is calling him through caller ID but he has no idea how the conversation might go. What makes the picture entertaining is not just Hardy’s memorable performance but also in the anticipation of how the voices on the other line (Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott) might react. Locke can be demanding, direct to a fault at times, hurtful, but he can be quite soft, too. It is difficult to predict which trait will surface and dominate the conversation once the call is picked up.
Thus, the shades of suspense and the drama are subtle but surely there. In an age where just about everything that counts is placed right in front of us, it is refreshing that once in a while a material comes along and reminds us the value of the trifecta—the screenplay, the actor, and the director—is true and perennial.