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Review: Tom Hardy is an anal retentive monster in the one-man 'Locke'

Tom Hardy is the only actor on screen in "Locke," a drama set entirely during a night when his character must try to sort out a giant mess.

Tom Hardy plays the only seen character in the car-set drama "Locke." Credit: A24 Tom Hardy plays the only seen character in the car-set drama "Locke."
Credit: A24

‘Locke’
Director: Steven Knight
Stars: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman (voice)
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Locke” only boasts one person who’s ever on-screen, and that person is Tom Hardy. On its face, that should be enough. He’s an actor of surprising talents: a hulking beefcake who just happens to have a harmonic, sing-song voice, albeit one that works through a weathered husk. You can barely see his intimidating build in “Locke,” seeing as he spends the near entirety of the 85 screen minutes trapped behind a wheel. His character, a construction foreman named Ivan Locke, is driving from Birmingham to London in the mid-evening hours for reasons that are gradually parceled out over one harried phone call after another.

To reveal why he’s on speeding through the night (and never once coming close to an accident) would be cruel, but suffice to say he's dealing with multiple problems, a few of them life-changing.And yet Ivan is a very rational man, to a fault. “It is a decision I have made,” he coldly intones about the decision that shall not here be revealed. His words are plain, calm yet firm. We discover he’s a legend at his job for keeping his cool and getting results, even as those around him flail. In fact, nearly all of the phone calls he makes involve him tidying up various messes made by people who could never replace him. The whole world is a mess except for Ivan, and he’s chosen this as his time to do finally something crazy and foolish.

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The writer-director is Steven Knight, best known as the scribe of “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Eastern Promises.” He last turned Jason Statham into a brooding, distraught semi-buttkicker in “Redemption,” but the ambitions got away from him. This, on the other hand, is inhumanly calculated — as inhuman as its lead. Knight has even given himself a masochistic challenge: make a film that’s just a dude driving “cinematic.” You can see the sweat, sometimes: Knight overdoes superimpositions, with shots of Hardy’s face meshing with highways and barreling cars, plus shooting through windows to create the illusion of multiple Tom Hardys. But the relentlessness of Knight’s visual experiments create a dreamy effect that battles the cold, attempted rationality of a character who insists he’s in control.

"Locke" director Steven Knight works overtime to make his film, set around a car, visually interesting. Credit: A24 "Locke" director Steven Knight works overtime to make his film, set around a car, visually interesting.
Credit: A24

Yet this is very much a writer’s movie, and the carefulness of Knight’s screenplay is both its strength and a mild limitation. Each character, not just Ivan, is carefully written and personably performed; it’s a cinch to distinguish between each one despite their never being seen. (Of the cast, Olivia Colman stands out as a mystery woman, as does Andrew Scott as a colleague who has none of Ivan’s cool.)

But Knight goes ever so slightly overboard. It’s one thing for Ivan to be precise (as he unfailingly is); but Knight seems afraid that every inch of it won’t be tightly constructed. Even Ivan’s surname suggests an intransigence (he’s locked into place). He’s also given a habit of “speaking” to his dead father, who serves as a Pysch 101 “explanation” for Ivan: His dad was a louse, which drove him to become an anal retentive machine. “Locke” does so much right that one can forgive the occasional lapse, if perhaps not the cheap, reductive doozy with which it abruptly concludes.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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