If the longest journey begins with a single footstep, then for Ivan Locke — on a tense nighttime drive from the north of England into London — it starts with a single phone call.
A film totally set within the confines of a moving car, Locke is claustrophobically gripping and an impressive showcase for British actor Tom Hardy ( Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) as a man being chased by his emotional demons.
The film starts as Ivan gets into his BMW and he begins making and receiving phone calls. We learn he’s a construction foreman on a huge project, one of the largest in Europe, that is breaking ground the next day. He’s supposed to be on his way home to watch a big soccer match with his two sons and wife, who has bought his favorite beer for the occasion and has even decided to don the shirt of his favorite team.
But it’s another set of urgent calls that sends him into a tailspin. (Warning: Those against the use of bluetooth-phone technology while driving may have issues with this movie.)
Hardy delivers a masterful performance, conveying shifting moods as well as his life story with just his face and voice. That’s no surprise as Hardy is one of this generation’s best actors and best-kept secrets. (That’s going to change in the next couple of years as he stars in the Elton John biopic Rocketman and the Mad Max reboot, Fury Road.)
But what is surprising is that mainstream filmmaker Steven Knight, whose previous directing credits include Jason Statham’s Redemption, delivers the stripped-down intensity generated by Locke.
Kudos to the actors on the other end of the line — especially Ruth Wilson as Locke’s wife — who are heard but never seen. As with a good radio play, they have to tell the story and maintain interest with just their voices.
Of course, the idea of setting a film around a person trapped in a confined space ( Buried) or open space ( Gravity) can seem like a gimmick. But when it’s done well, as it is here, it’s something else: a cinematic joyride.
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Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy
Rated: R (strong language)
Running time: 85 mins.