A lean, real-time account of a construction supervisor facing the loss of his home, marriage and job to honor a commitment and exorcise the sins of his father, Locke turns even mundane details into flavorful dramatic grist. Brit screenwriter Steven Knight’s second film as director could easily be a theater piece and yet it’s bracingly cinematic, powered by Tom Hardy’s controlled performance, which packs an emotional charge intensified by its restraint. No less impressive than the narrative mastery here, however, is the technical execution of this bold minimalist experiment.

Shot entirely in the confined setting of a BMW during a nighttime journey on the motorway from Birmingham to London, the low-budget project was rehearsed and filmed in less than two weeks. The action was captured chronologically, with a top-notch voice cast working from a nearby hotel as characters heard only via phone calls.

Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a soft-spoken Welshman with an unimpeachable record as a go-to guy in construction management, and as a husband of 15 years and father to two soccer-fanatic sons. In details that gradually emerge during tense calls with his boss and crew chief, we learn that the largest concrete pour ever attempted in Europe outside a nuclear or military facility is scheduled early the following morning. The trigger for Locke’s abrupt flight is a personal dilemma that trumps the professional challenge. In a hospital in London is Bethan, a sad-sack assistant with whom he had a tepid one-night stand on a job the previous year. She has gone into premature labor with their child, and Locke is determined to do right by his mistakes. The situations worsen as he juggles increasingly devastating calls from home with those from London and from colleagues.

What makes Hardy’s performance so effective is that he doesn’t play Locke as a quick-fix dynamo, nor as some paragon of male nobility. He’s simply an ordinary, even-tempered and decent man in a tough situation. Hardy seldom raises his voice, but the shattering toll of Locke’s actions is written all over his face as he accepts his fate. It’s an extraordinary piece of acting. Though they remain unseen, the other key characters are remarkably vivid.


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