Opens Fri., May 16 at Harvard Exit. Rated R. 85 minutes.
Bane has a problem. And by Bane we mean Tom Hardy, here cast as a methodical Welsh structural engineer who specializes in concrete. This is a film where you will learn a lot about how that material is poured and processed, from its viscosity to the closing of streets to allow for the mixing trucks to arrive according to schedule. Locke the movie and Locke the individual are nothing if not concrete. This is a film about limits—of emotions, of structures, and of locations. And there is only one location: Locke’s BMW as he heads south through the night from Birmingham toward London—away from a critical job he is abandoning—to attend the birth of a child from a drunken one-night stand. (“I have behaved in a way that is not like me,” he will tell his wife.)
Confining the action to a SUV is a gimmick, as in Lifeboat or Phone Booth—a narrative constraint that writer/director Steven Knight has assigned himself. Locke is essentially a radio play made into a movie. The camera moves up high to track Locke’s journey; there are some visual flourishes; but basically we’re listening to Hardy’s soft rumbling voice for 85 minutes. It’s a one-man dialogue, with calls to and from his wife and two sons, the hospital, his irate bosses, and a panicked Irish underling back at the job site. A veteran English screenwriter (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises), Knight clearly respects literary form and tradition. He explicitly nods to Samuel Beckett, whose pauses and repetitions are echoed here. Ivan Locke keeps telling others, “Everything will be all right,” but he’s really trying to reassure himself against the existential void, the potential loss of job, family, and self-control. He says of his precious 55-story tower, “You make one little mistake, and the whole world comes crashing down.” The symbolism is clear.
The car’s claustrophobia suits Locke’s cramped rationality, his rigorously ruled sense of himself as a man. He loses composure only when yelling at his father, unseen in the backseat, who left and made him a bastard child—as Locke now refuses to do. It’s a miscalculated, stagy device, but it doesn’t ruin the movie’s spell. Hardy gives Locke a calm, steady self-assessment, a kind of lucid despair. He’s a guy forced to realize in one night that his life has no foundation.