Locke is not a great film, but it is a good one. If you’re on the fence about seeing it, do so. Don’t read any further, as we’re going to talk about plot and this movie works best the less you know going in.
Still here? Okay, here we go.
Locke opens with a wide shot of a construction site. It’s dark. Spotlights illuminate a massive foundation hole. Early the next morning, they will pour the concrete. It will be the largest commercial pour in Europe. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is the construction manager in charge.
Ivan gets into his car. He pulls away from the curb and makes a call. He gets a woman’s voicemail. He tells her he’s gotten her message and that he’s on his way.
As the film unfolds we learn that Ivan is traveling to London from Birmingham. We also learn the circumstances surrounding the trip. Last year he had a one night stand while away on a job. The first and only time he’s strayed in fifteen years of marriage. But the woman, Bethan, became pregnant. Now, the baby has come early and she’s gone into labor.
The rest of the film happens in near real-time, as Ivan juggles a series of calls. We learn more about him. He is both diligent and pragmatic. The kind of man who makes checklists but is able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
And so it is with a deliberate logic that he approaches his current situation. He has fathered a child. Now he must do right by it. A deep-rooted psychological need drives him. Ivan’s father abandoned him. Ivan refuses to do the same.
The film doles out this information in small bits as it unfolds. Each nugget raises the emotional stakes and increases the story’s tension. In time, Ivan loses his job, his family and his home. He accepts these events with a calm detachment. These are the consequences of his actions. He compartmentalizes them. He holds to his logic. He must be there for his child. Early on, when Bethan asks if he loves her, Ivan replies “How can I? I don’t know you.” His tone is not cruel. It is the voice of a man trying to convince her of a truth he needs to believe.
Watching Ivan’s world unravel is a compelling journey. Tom Hardy holds our attention from the opening scene. We want to learn more about his character. Through his eyes and inflection, Hardy conveys a character struggling to contain a sea of emotions. Setting the entire film in Ivan’s car doesn’t feel like a stunt, it feels natural. It adds to the claustrophobic sense of desperation that the film cultivates. By the end, we’re hanging on every word.
But about that end. Just as abruptly as it began, the film is over. Ivan’s world has changed and he heads off to what will be, for him, a new life. I didn’t like this ending, but I’m not sure how I would change it. It felt anti-climatic. Not enough to ruin the film, but enough that it left me wanting. But perhaps that’s the point. Just like Ivan, we’re left with an odd sense of detachment.