“I want to know that I’m not driving in one direction”.
Sometimes, it’s a movie’s extremely low scale that makes it so high concept. Movies shot in single takes, or with a tiny cast, or in one location, or in real time. All of these things can work as ways to make miniscule budgets fly. They can also end up as empty gimmicks, relying too much on that high concept crutch. But when done right, you get something really unique and amazingly impressive in its execution. When done right, you get a movie like Locke.
Leaving work on a construction site in Birmingham, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) gets behind the wheel of his car and sets off. First calling his home, Locke lets his son know he won’t be home to watch the big soccer match with his wife his kids. His next call is to a colleague. Locke is on the verge of the biggest private industry concrete pour in British history the next day, but he has something waiting for him in London that cannot wait.
One bloke in a car for 90 minutes talking to people on the phone. Every other character nothing more than a voice over the speaker. A major plot point built around the pouring of concrete. Personal conflicts and dramas that are hugely impactful on the characters, but not really the stuff movies are made of. I’m trying be as vague as possible, because the less you now about the details, the better Locke is. Luckily, I didn’t know very much going in, so it hit, hard.
If you’re gonna build an entire movie around one bloke in a car for 90 minutes talking to people on the phone, that one bloke had better be good. And Locke delivers there as well. Tom Hardy might be the best, most compelling actor to have emerged in the last decade or so. In not so great movies, like Lawless, he’s always the best bit. In something that could have been clichéd and corny, like Warrior, he’s one of the main reasons it gets elevated above clichéd and corny. In something that lives and dies on its central performance, like Bronson, he takes that heavy responsibility and gives one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen.
But that’s not to say Hardy is the only reason Locke works so well. Steven Knight’s script deserves just as much credit. He keeps this small, intimate story moving at a cracking pace, and makes the consequences feel real and, well, consequential. And the other actors, who have only their voices to work with, deliver the kind believable performances you wouldn’t think possible through voice alone.
It’s the extremely low scale of Locke that makes it so high concept. But this is no gimmick. Maybe Knight was motivated by figuring out how to make a movie on a tiny budget. Or make it in a quirky way that would seem impressive when read in a press kit and be easy for lazy film critics to copy and paste. But it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like he had a story first, then it just so happened to lend itself to this interesting approach to film making. And Hardy is so good, I’m actually starting to get excited about what I assumed was a pointless Mad Max reboot.