Ivan Locke is a man making a drive in his BMW, a drive to an important destination that is causing him all the more trouble than he thought he could handle. Locke is a unique movie in that it takes place entirely inside this car, and with the only face we see for the runtime being Tom Hardy’s. This was most certainly an interesting movie, which with a mysterious situation that slowly unravels itself and the best acting from Hardy, captures the tension and pressure on a man trying with all his might not to repeat his father’s mistakes.
As the movie begins, we see a man walk away from a live construction site and getting into a car, driving away. From that point on, Locke speaks so much through so little, showing us nothing and yet letting us read everything, from every tremble of his voice, every twitch of his skin. As stated by Ivan himself, the drive would take him about an hour and a half, which not so coincidentally is the length of the movie. That should be the first hint that the movie is never going to leave Ivan and his car-telephone, leaving us to draw up images of the rest of the handful of characters through their voices. In fact, the purpose of this movie is to take attention away from visuals, and toward the sound. Voices and their slightest modulations take the limelight, serving as our guide to the minds of the people and the relationships they hold with each other. Tom Hardy speaks in a disturbingly calm and enunciated accent, very European in tone. This seems apt for this character, and the setting he is in, where sound influences everything, his only contact with any facet of his life being a mobile telephone. It is all the more important that he surface his emotions, or keep them at bay, as the case may be, to control and not lose hold over any of the three things – his job, his family, or his current predicament.
The constant and sole focus of the camera on Hardy allows him a lot of room for character acting, and nuances of expression. (Needless to say, it also left me quite many options of images to choose from, as is evident) And it would be wrong to say that he does anything short of hitting every nail on its head. In the best performance he has ever given, Hardy seems a driven man, ignited with a certain dramatic and theatre-like spirit. To say the truth, there are quite a many elements of the film that impart it drama and expressionism that belong on the stage. With his eyes almost constantly fixed on the road beyond him, he seems like in conversation with his audience, his face always facing us. The continuous telephonic dialogue is at times interrupted, and the silence is filled out with monologues aimed at his non-present, late father against whom he has been holding a grudge all his life. These monologues, if nothing else, gives us a sensation awfully similar to being a live audience to a theatrical play. While being very emphatic and pregnant with sentiment, I’m not entirely sure about the monologues in question, as with repetition, they seem to get overused and possibly taking away from the overall feel of the remaining story. Having served as an outlet for stage-actors to let their inner thoughts be known to the gazing audience, the use of this theatrical tool seems unnecessary in big screen cinema, especially in one like this, with almost every frame a close-up of the actor. This might be my most subjective thought regarding the movie, but when the rest of the drama demanded and effected a minimalistic subdued tone, with many emotions coursing in the undercurrent, this blatant telling of Ivan’s struggle seems unbefitting. But do not worry, for it is my only qualm with the otherwise memorable piece of cinematic theatre.
It was funny, but I found myself totally taken in by the allure of Ivan’s accent, and have been failing at attempts to replicate it. It is the voice of the one person you want by your side when the bells toll for you, guiding you toward the light. It is the voice you want telling you which wire to snip during a moment under baited breath. For the same reason, Ivan is the right person, if not the only, who can possibly talk Donal, his scatter-brained and more casual colleague through the inspection of the site in time for the concrete filling the next morning. It is also very reflective of the man that he is, dedicated to his work as his dad was, but also equally dedicated to not being the person his dad was. He is intent on resolving all his problems, without leaving any strings untied, even if it means him losing his job and wreaking havoc on his family life. His calculated tone and facial hair make him look the part of a hard-worker, a man who has built a life by the sweat of his elbows. And the fact that he is willing to forego all of that just so that his child with a woman he does not love can grow up knowing his true father speaks volumes of his character. This is not just in the conventional manner of painting him in a good-natured, generous light, but also hides layers of his psyche, that his father trampled all over. His actions are noticeably not entirely out of love or sympathy for the poor baby or the mother Bethan, whom he barely knows, but is more along the lines of proof to himself and his father in his grave, that he is a man unlike his father, a man who, as he himself says, ‘takes care of his fuck-ups’. What his mind wants in the end is not to be a father to a drunken mistake, but to satisfy himself with the selfish thought that he will not be like his father. While there may be empathy somewhere beneath it all, the overarching emotion is rather one of revenge.
While concentrating its thoughts on Ivan Locke, the movie does not entirely submit itself to the acting powerhouse that is Tom Hardy. There is detailed attention given to the other faceless names too, who are voiced by brilliant actors who rely heavily on the right tone of voice. From Ruth Wilson (of Luther fame) playing the voice for Ivan’s wife Katherine, to Andrew Scott (of Sherlock fame) doing the same for his agitated and nervous friend Donal, the voice-acting in the film is astounding. Capable of carrying emotive silences and virtually painting us a picture of their characters, the people Ivan talks to colour in for us his history and the gravity of his current situation. But all this is purely centric on one man’s worried face and the lines he can draw there, and that many, Tom Hardy completely steals the show with an evocative performance that is deserving of an Oscar. It is as though every syllable he utters and the heavy tone in which he declares himself “Ivan Locke” is overlaid with the still tension he is under – in what ought to be a relaxing night drive – and the weight of his life crashing down around him. Character acting at its finest, Hardy manages to not only exude speeches with every glance, but does so effortlessly, and in a most realistic portrayal. Although it is his wife who is broken, and Donal who is furious, it is in the conversation with his sons about the game that night, that Ivan’s emotions truly surface and tears materialize. He begins to understand, that in his thought-out plan to not be his father by being there for his illegitimate child, he has overlooked the children he will be leaving damaged in the process. It is rightfully a tear-breaking moment when father and son have a faux conversation about Caldwell in the game, but which speaks so much to tell us the state the household is in at the moment, as well as the folly being realized in Ivan’s mind. Ivan is constantly strained between proving his father wrong by cleaning up his mess and the damage that he would be causing to his career and his family. Through his repetitive assurances to others such as Gareth that “this is his decision”, we see a man still doubting himself over his decision, telling himself that this is the right course of action. That may be the reason why he has to imagine his late father in the back-seat and speak brashly at him, so he can harden himself from faltering in his decision. It is an incredibly nuanced character that Steven Knight creates through Tom Hardy’s Ivan Locke.
In what may seem to be an idea best left on paper, the unique approach to setting a constant frame, with only one face to keep your eyes glued on, Locke manages to surprise in the depth of its character sketches and in its expression of tension through the confines of a car and the road-light setting. Though not a flaw in itself, I did feel the tense atmosphere and suffocation that Ivan faces may have been better set against a still camera that did not interlace to traffic lights and the road itself, but rather remained fixated on the protagonist’s visage. It did feel at times, when the scene shifted to the exterior of the car or panned out from Ivan to the drive itself, that the tension was even slightly lifted, which thereby did not present fully the experience of one drive.
Placing all its chips on one character, Locke manages to win the table with its intricate and emotive sketch of character and atmosphere. Set off against a chilly yet clear night, the contrast between the natural cool of the journey and the turmoil within lets us into the head of Ivan, who is battling an inner conflict he thought he always had the answer to. This tale of a fatalistic night is made possible and even elevated through the eye-opening performance of Tom Hardy, on whom the human nature of the script entirely rested. With a meticulous script replete with poignant short lines that speak volumes ahead of their brevity. This is a movie with an unusual idea as a theatrical tool which genuinely complements the scenario, and is most captivating in its minuteness.