When you get down to it, every film is just a series of conversations. Even the ones that depend on big explosions and space battles have to hold the occasional conversation to explain to the audience why they should care about the onscreen pyrotechnics.
The new film Locke by writer turned director Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) asks what happens when you boil a film down to that essential element and beyond. The entire movie takes place during a fateful car trip from the north of England down to London. The car's sole occupant is Ian Locke, played by Tom Hardy, last seen onscreen beneath a frightening muzzle as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan's favorite actor is the sole face audiences see in Locke, sharing the screen with only the snazzy BMW crossover he drives and a whole lot of fashionably out-of-focus shots of the British road system at night. That Locke is much more entertaining than it sounds is a tribute to Knight's skill as a writer and Hardy's handsome, expressive mug.
The film begins with a long, slow pan over a giant construction site at dusk. This is where Locke works, and he is apparently very good at his job as a construction executive. Tomorrow is a big day for Locke, as we come to find out that he is going to be responsible for "the largest concrete pour in Europe outside the defense and nuclear industries" that will (hopefully) be the foundation on which a 55-story building will rise. Construction, specifically concrete, is not only Locke's job, it is his great passion. The only time he waxes poetic in the film is when he's speaking about his job. "You don't even trust God with concrete," he says. So why is he driving away from the jobsite at 90 kilometers per hour? I don't want to give too much away about the surprisingly rich story Knight wrings out of the bare-bones premise of an almost real-time chronicle of the worst night of a guy's life, as the gradual revelation of the circumstances leading up to the night drive are a key component of the film's delicate pleasures.
When artists first start out, we tend to believe that unfettered freedom of thought is necessary to create great things. But in practice, imposing limitations on some aspects of your craft can lead to big breakthroughs in the remaining aspects. Such is the case with Locke, which puts all of the pressure on the dialog and Hardy's canny growl to deliver the goods. The film bumps up against its limitations early and often; by the end, the bokeh photography crosses the line from hypnotic to tedious. While it is not as effective a one-hander as 2013's Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale Of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self, Locke does manage to pack a wide range of emotions onto the M1 highway to London.
Studio on the Square