I’m almost loathe to review this one. I knew basically nothing about Locke going in, except that it was a very highly-reviewed movie focused entirely around Tom Hardy driving in a car. Nobody else, just him. If it was anyone else (Ryan Reynolds, for example), I’d have a hard time believing that one actor in a tight space would be enough to sustain an entire picture. But Hardy is such a versatile and charismatic talent that I had little doubt he could pull it off.

On the one hand, I enjoyed the chance to go in fresh and let the story unfold with no prior expectations. On the other hand, there’s so much here that I want to discuss and I feel compelled to do what I can to spread the word about this surprising little film. So, at this point, I’ll urge you to take my word that Locke is absolutely a film worth looking into and you should totally see it at your earliest convenience. If you need more convincing and you’re okay with learning a few story details in advance, read on.

Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a British man who seems to speak with the exact same accent Hardy used for Bane (minus the mask, obviously). Ivan is a construction foreman currently overseeing a cement pour for some huge American conglomerate. This is a crucial step, you see, as the first pouring of cement forms the foundation for this giant tower Ivan is building. And his job is currently in danger because Ivan decided at the very last minute that he won’t actually be present to make sure that the cement pour goes as planned.

A few months back, you see, Ivan got into an extramarital affair with some woman — name of Bethan — in London. It was purely alcohol and loneliness, mind you; Ivan neither loves nor hates Bethan, but does everything possible to maintain apathy for this woman he doesn’t know. The very same woman who got knocked up with his kid. Even better, because Bethan is an older woman, the pregnancy has been complicated. As such, the baby comes two months premature, before Ivan has figured out what he’s going to do about it, on the night before the cement pour that could determine his entire career.

And so, on the spur of the moment, Ivan decides to drop everything and take a two-hour drive to London to be there for the birth of his bastard child. Along the way, he has to coordinate preparation for the cement pour, hold his family together as his infidelity brings it crashing down, and reassure his mistress through the birth of their child, all over a Bluetooth cell phone setup as he goes 90 km an hour down the motorway.

…Oh, and Ivan also has imaginary conversations with his dead father in the backseat. Did I forget to mention that part?

Everything about this film comes back to the presentation, which is creative and powerful in so many ways that it more than makes up for the weak premise. Hardy’s performance is of course a central part of that, and it should go without saying that he’s incredible. Moreover, sticking our main character in a car through the entire running time emphasizes the character’s isolation and his impotence to really do much of anything except keep driving. This is further strengthened by Ivan’s communication via cell phone, which leaves him (and us) to wonder what else is going wrong at a time when he can’t go over and fix it himself. Additionally, because the entire film takes place within a two-hour drive to London (with a multimillion-dollar deadline set the morning after), the movie has a breakneck pace and a sense of urgency that I don’t usually find in character dramas.

Of course, the unique setting affects the visuals as well. The nighttime setting is lit up by passing streetlamps and headlights, not to mention all the myriad reflections and refractions through Ivan’s windows and mirrors. Writer/director Steven Knight also uses some intriguing cross-fades, usually setting Ivan’s face against images of moving traffic. It’s a very trippy presentation that perfectly recreates the feeling of trying to stay awake and alert during a long drive. In a novel and entertaining way, I mean.

(Side note: This film was exec-produced by Joe Wright, he of Hanna and the recent Anna Karenina adaptation. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t have a hand in crafting the visual style.)

Perhaps more importantly, we have the film’s use of themes and symbols. An obvious example is the car itself: As Ivan continues driving, he’s quite literally getting further and further removed from his old life back home. The childbirth and the cement pour are also intrinsically linked, for they both mark something brought into this world that Ivan is responsible for creating.

Thus we have one of the film’s central themes: responsibility. Ivan has such a strong sense of responsibility that he will move heaven and earth to take care of what’s his. No matter how stupid the mistake was in the first place, no matter how badly things get, and no matter how insane he’d have to be to try and fix something that’s so far beyond repair, he’ll try and fix it anyway. Because Ivan steadfastly believes that anything can be fixed with enough persistence and creativity, and he’s in for a very rude wake-up call.

The sad simple truth is that some mistakes can’t be fixed. If the cement pour goes wrong and the tower is built on a soft foundation, there’s nothing to stop that tower from coming down. Likewise, Ivan can’t go back and un-fuck Bethan. Even if she decided to abort the kid, that mistake still wouldn’t have gone away. The point being that through the entire running time, there’s an implicit understanding that something has to give. Whether Ivan gets to juggling too many tasks to keep track of or whether he’s finally forced to surrender a battle, he simply can’t have everything no matter how hard he tries. How would you like to be there when such a bull-headed man is forced to make that realization?

Of course, the other major theme is family. We see that Ivan is at least partially motivated by his own daddy issues, and watching him argue with his dad in the empty backseat provides a fascinating glimpse into Ivan’s id. Aside from that, I’m sorry to say that this facet of the movie was relatively underdeveloped. Not that it’s necessarily the movie’s fault. It’s not like we could really see much of Ivan as a loving father when he can only talk to his boys over a cell phone connection. Also, Ivan keeps insisting that he’s going to meet his new child and set things right, but there’s no mention of precisely how he’s going to do that. Then again, Ivan is so stressed out through the whole running time that I doubt even he knows what he’s going to do. The bottom line is that Ivan will at least be there for the birth of his child, which is more than Ivan’s dad ever did for him. It’s not much, but it’s enough.

Locke is a deceptively intelligent film. Steven Knight’s presentation is fast-paced, atmospheric, thematically deep, and wickedly creative. The so-so premise is made superbly captivating by the gimmick of putting Tom Hardy in a car, though it certainly helps that Hardy turns in a dynamite performance. I know its run is very limited, but this one is worth the effort.

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