Ivan Locke, a dependable and highly respected construction foreman, is going through a personal crisis that, because of his actions and other factors beyond his control, has also turned into a serious professional crisis. As he drives his BMW from Birmingham to London late one night to lend support to a former lover in serious need – he is partly to blame for her plight – almost everything in his life begins to unravel. The desperate state in which he finds himself is entirely foreign to someone so organized and methodical. He’s trapped in his car when he needs to be elsewhere, and he can’t calmly, rationally execute a sound plan. Out of his element, he scrambles to do the right thing while trying to preserve the up-to-now ordered yet fulfilling life he’s built around him.
Locke is played by Thomas Hardy, whom you might remember from Christopher Nolan’s Inception, where he played an impersonator with a talent for manipulating others inside their dreams. In Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, he was unrecognizable and unforgettable as Bane, a villain whose face is mostly obscured by an off-putting apparatus that provides pain-killing gas and has helped him survive since he suffered some horrific injuries as a young man.
As an actor, Hardy stepped into a major challenge as Ivan Locke. A lesser actor could not lug around what Hardy seems to effortlessly balance in one hand here, with the other tied behind his back. His character seems almost expressionless on the surface at times, but when you look closer you perceive deep levels of pain, frustration and regret. Hardy has to convey this with only subtle body movements, tiny facial changes and his voice. Though Locke works hard to retain his composure on what must be the most painful night of his life, the turmoil inside is evident. Some call this type of acting minimalist, or economical, but that makes it sound uninteresting to watch. The opposite is true.
The beauty of Locke is the way the story unfolds in real-time and how new plot morsels are doled out through Locke’s stream of hands-free conversations with his loved ones and colleagues. Oddly, even though we can’t see them, these secondary characters don’t feel detached from the action. We feel their happiness and pain through their voices, through Locke’s reactions, and because of the power of the screenplay, which does so much despite so many limitations resulting from the story’s setting.
Another oddity is that the main character, though responsible for his plight, remains almost completely reactive. When adversity presents itself it’s lobbed at him like little time bombs he must defuse. The more he struggles, the grimmer things become. Does he realize it’s futile to keep trying to press on? Is it futile? Can he change his course after he’s fully committed himself to it, right or wrong? Will he let everyone else in his life down in order to stay true to himself and his moral code?
No matter what happens, it’s thrilling to watch an actor inhabit a role so completely. And, when great acting is melded with an interesting premise that is so well executed, you’ve got yourself a gripping movie-watching experience. Like Ivan, I suspect you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
4.5 stars (out of five)