Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) leaves work at the construction site where he is a supervisor, takes off his boots and climbs into his car. The job he has to do is one he is most proud of: he has been instrumental in the manufacture of many buildings which has given him much professional satisfaction, but this is the big one, and all it needs to go ahead now are a few tonnes of liquid concrete to lay the foundations which will take a couple of hundred trucks to deliver, so he has to orchestrate. However, something important has come up tonight, and instead of driving home to his family Locke must head off down the M6 to London and the woman he barely knows, but has a vital connection to him. She's having his baby.
Some compared Locke, the film, to the American thriller Buried seeing as how they both took place in a single location and all the dialogue was conducted over the phone between the lead actor, who we did see, and the folks he spoke to, who we didn't. Yet you could just as easily regard it as a movie variation on the British comedy series Marion and Geoff which portrayed a Welsh man whose life was falling apart through the conversations he had in his car, only in that case star Rob Brydon was holding forth to a video camera he had set up and here star Tom Hardy had a bunch of off-camera castmates to perform with. Well, that and the fact that Locke was not supposed to be funny in any way.
Many, attracted by Hardy's movie star status, were disappointed by what they found, expecting a more conventional construction than the one they got which was essentially a filmed, feature length radio play rather than a work which opened out its plot further than the simple car interior. The lead character stayed inside the vehicle for about ninety-nine percent of the running time if not more, and no matter Hardy's charisma they found the personality he was acting out far less compelling than his showier roles he had made a name for himself with. But for those willing to watch a drama told almost entirely verbally, they would agree Hardy managed to hold the attention as Locke gradually watched his life circle the drain.
The man whose idea this was was writer and director Steven Knight, an intriguing chap who had started his screen career writing television comedy, most notably for Jasper Carrott, then after inventing quiz show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? had graduated to penning scripts for David Cronenberg and Stephen Frears before moving behind the camera to helm his own work. Whether you thought his endeavours were artistically successful, or even entertaining, they did take risks, his movie previous to this bringing social conscience to a Jason Statham action flick with Hummingbird, and that sense of removing a star from their customary setting (if not exactly out of their so-called "comfort zone") was what fuelled the events as they unfolded here. That said, Hardy did remain fairly together while performing a man who should really not be.
Yet that was the point, Locke had behaved out of character and now was paying the price, seeing everything he held dear slip through his fingers while trying to put a brave face on things so as not to make the experience any more difficult for those around him than they really needed to be, the tension arising from the fact that Locke had made such an error of judgement that nothing will ever be the same again, and the repercussions will cause major disruptions. As he drives ever further from his job, his home and his family, the journey becomes a metaphor for his drifting free from one life and into another as Knight punctuated the conversations (including Olivia Colman as the about to give birth lover and Ruth Wilson as the wronged wife) with police car sirens, the "Call waiting" message and Locke telling off his imaginary and irresponsible father in the back seat. Some would accuse this of being a movie where nothing happens, but considering the way it showed how organising your life was a fool's errand when nothing could be predicted, that wasn't true. Music by Dickon Hinchcliffe.