In the opening moments of Locke, viewers could be forgiven for thinking they are watching an extended BMW advert. The vehicle badge is captured no less than four times in the first few minutes and this film, that is essentially a 90 minute car journey, feels like a daunting prospect. A few moments further into Birmingham writer-director Steven Knight’s latest film and construction worker Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) makes a life altering decision. What at first appears as a trivial, last minute change of direction at a set of traffic lights unfolds into a gripping and suspenseful drama that challenges the very notion of cinema.

“One Car. One driver. One film to redefine cinema”

This high concept film from the writer of Birmingham based television series Peaky Blinders, is set entirely inside Ivan’s car on a journey along the M6 from Birmingham to London. It’s set in real time and Tom Hardy is the only actor we ever get to see. Like all good concepts it’s both barely there – transparent as it sweeps us away in a torrent of suspense – and the film’s striking, underlying brilliance.

© A24 Films

© A24 Films

A thriller without espionage and in which no crimes take place, Locke’s tensions are entirely domestic and of Ivan’s own making. His mistakes are made long before the film begins and Locke throw’s audiences right into the middle of his attempts to correct them without drowning in its own backstory. Through emotionally charged phone conversations, Knight’s script delicately unfurls Ivan’s central relationships with his wife and sons, a distressed ex-lover and his colleagues as the cracks in his life begin to appear.

The technicalities of the construction trade are not the most obvious subject matter for a psychological thriller yet Knight weaves Ivan’s frustrated, over-the-phone attempts to run Europe’s biggest concrete pour neatly into his film’s wider themes about responsibility, creation and growth. While these are occasionally spelled out a little too bluntly – in Locke’s description of life as the ‘greatest construction’ – Locke clings to his passion for concrete, ironically the material that keeps everything together, as his world collapses.

Locke is not a bad man and Knight’s precision in weaving his plot strands together offers clear character development despite the film’s real time approach. The car’s confined setting reinforces Ivan’s emotional cage while Knight’s visual focus on Hardy’s poignant performance makes his difficulty with expressions of love painfully real. In his relentless 90 minutes of screen time Hardy vividly captures attention and holds it.

“Locke’s brilliance lies in its willingness to let audiences fill in the blanks”

Like the greatest of novels, Locke’s brilliance lies in its willingness to let audiences fill in the blanks. We hear the voices of Ivan’s significant others but they become fully fledged characters only in our imaginations. Made living living by performances from the off-camera supporting cast – Olivia Coleman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott – our greatest impression of these characters is conjured by Knight’s precise choice of words in Ivan’s own descriptions. Ivan’s ex-lover Bethan is ‘distressed’, ‘lonely’ and ‘strange’. And like the best short stories, this brief slice of Ivan’s existence gives us such well developed characters, the film’s ending comes far too soon.

Grounded in Tom Hardy’s stirring and atmospheric performance Knight’s deliberately restrictive concept gives birth to a visionary film that redefines the meaning of cinema.

VERDICT:    ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭    5/5

For more information see the official website

Images: © A24 Films

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