“Locke,” written and directed by Steven Knight, is a plot-spare one-character drama that consists entirely of actor Tom Hardy driving in a car. His closest thing to an on-screen co-star is a hands-free phone system. The thrills largely involve the particulars of a construction-site concrete pour.
Fasten your seat belt, honest. It’s riveting cinema.
Knight delivers a compact-space thriller too rich in underlying emotion to suffer from the genre gimmickry of fare such as “Phone Booth.” The film is also a one-man survival journey, like “All Is Lost.”
Knight, however, who directed “Redemption” and wrote “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Eastern Promises,” is interested not in life-or-death survival but in journeys of the moral sort.
Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a respected construction-site manager and devoted family man with a Welsh accent, a beard and soulful eyes that give him a slight mythic quality. As things begin, Locke drives off in a BMW, heading from Birmingham to London. He won’t be coming home to his family. Nor will he be at the site of the biggest concrete pour of his career.
Via a nonstop string of phone conversations Locke conducts with characters represented by voice only, Knight reveals that Locke is traveling to see a hospitalized woman named Bethan (Olivia Colman).
A feeling of moral duty impels him to visit Bethan and to phone his wife of 15 years, Katrina (Ruth Wilson), and make a confession that could end their marriage.
Locke also speaks with his boss, Gareth (Ben Daniels), who warns Locke that his absence from the concrete pour could cost him his job.
Additionally, Locke finds himself coaching the film’s comic-relief character, an unprepared underling named Donal (Andrew Scott), in how to stand in for him during the concrete pour.
Conversations with a distressed Bethan complete the mix.
As Locke troubleshoots work site glitches, converses with his two unaware sons about a soccer game and tries to hold his life together, Knight doesn’t achieve profundity.
Scenes in which Locke rages at his dead father, presented as an invisible back seat passenger and as a reason for Locke’s obsessiveness, suffer from pop-psych shallowness. The voice-only characters come across largely as devices.
But overall, this is an exhilarating thriller and a captivating depiction of the workings and triumphs of a conscience. The direction is smooth. The editing is tight. The cinematography, which turns the nighttime traffic lights into gemlike blurs, is exquisite.
Hardy is an in-character force who demonstrates the power of restrained acting. Known for roles such as the brutal star criminal of “Bronson” and Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he’s thoroughly believable as a decent construction man versed in the intricacies of C6 concrete. His eyes register a gold mine of psychological shades and compellingly illustrate emotion eclipsing logic.
The closure delivers uplift with only minimal sentimentality. Problem is, you don’t want this movie to end.
Starring Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott
Written and directed by Steven Knight
Running time 1 hour, 25 minutes