Going toe-to-toe with one of the biggest superhero franchises on the planet is no easy feat, especially for a bare-bones thriller set entirely on the M1. One man, one car and one mobile: the set-up for Locke is about as simple as a film can get, and yet director Steven Knight’s sophomore effort is just as tense and gripping as even the most explosive of blockbusters.
Locke finds Tom Hardy as average-joe Ivan Locke, a mild-mannered Welsh construction manager caught racing down the motorway late at night for some currently unknown reason, with nothing but his mobile phone for company. Through a series of conversations with assorted family members, work colleagues and supposed friends, Locke’s life gradually becomes unstuck as he struggles to continue his one-man crusade towards the heart of London and of course, his problems.
Mildly hyperbolic descriptions aside, Locke is, at its very core, a man talking on the phone for 80 minutes, a feat unlikely to rouse much interest in the majority of viewers. There are no explosions, no car chases and no other people show up except Tom Hardy and his beard. I agree this may be a good thing if you particularly enjoy Mr Hardy’s work, or y’know, beards, but for a lot of cinema-goers coaxed in by the slightly ambiguous marketing, this won’t be quite what you’re expecting. That’s not to say run a mile however: those five blinking stars in this review’s title don’t lie, Locke is nothing short of genius.
Oscar-nominee Knight has managed to craft a modern tragedy that is both incredibly clever in its orchestration and yet somehow also astonishingly accessible. By being so naturally embracive of the bare elements to both the story and the setting, Locke becomes a believable tale of the over-reaching every-man. Hardy’s Locke taps into the very essence of average; he’s a typical Brit with a mortgage, a family and genuine responsibility just like any normal guy you pass in the street. In creating such an attainable protagonist, Knight finds the emotional soft-spot that’s lacking from so many other tense dramas: we feel for Locke because he’s one of us.
At the very heart of Locke’s creation is former dream-stealer and Batman-breaker Tom Hardy, phoning in a slightly less ostentatious but equally as memorable performance as Knight’s lone rider. He’s an unpredictable lead, a softly-spoken family man with some serious anger hidden in his depths; as multi-layered and intriguing as the tense and naked scripting requires.
Although Hardy appears alone for the entirety of the film’s shortened running-time, the narrative is peppered with a host of somewhat recognisable voices. Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Sherlock’s Andrew Scott throw their dramatic vocals into the mix, building a world for Locke’s problems to gradually tear down and proving of course that he’s not totally alone.
Despite starting with such a daringly vacant set-up, Locke spins itself into an edgy and original thriller powered by a phenomenal lead and an inspiring script. Experimental to say the least, this is a brave and incredibly interesting piece of cinema that puts the core principals of filmmaking to the test and somehow still comes out on-top. At its most basic, Locke is a triumph of screenwriting.
Locke (2014), directed by Steven Knight, is released in UK cinemas on 18th April by Lionsgate, Certificate 15.