Taking place almost exclusively within the confines of a moving vehicle, “Locke” is the kind of film that one might think was adapted for the screen after a successful stage run. To learn that such was not the case -- that the film’s pressure-cooker style was conceived deliberately with cinematic purposes in mind -- makes it an even more impressive accomplishment. Tom Hardy is the central performer, working with only a handful of props and a few co-stars who are only heard as voices on a telephone. It may be the best work of what one hopes is a career still in takeoff mode.
The justification for this singular setting is an emergency trip that Hardy’s character (construction foreman and family man Ivan Locke) embarks on as part of a series of life-altering decisions, making a series of difficult phone calls along the way. Without detailing specifics (part of the joy of the film is learning the circumstances, one piece of information at a time, and seeing Locke’s mental processes at work), suffice to say that his actions constitute a kind of bravery, whether you agree with his reasoning or not, and that Hardy’s introspective intensity helps to achieve and sustain and level of intimacy that’s more thrilling than many films with 100 times the budget.
Writer-director Steven Knight knows a thing or two about ensnaring the audience (he was one of the creators of the original version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”), and it’s no surprise that “Locke” sinks its claws in early on. The drive takes place at night, and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos continuously finds new ways to frame Locke, complimenting and contrasting his psychological footwork, while also utilizing the reflections of streetlights and surrounding traffic with varying degrees of focus to populate the film with painterly undercurrents and visual rhymes.
“Locke” is available on Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 12.
Robert Humanick is a contributing writer for slantmagazine.com