Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a devoted father and husband in addition to being a thriving construction manager, but when he takes a phone call the night before the most principal day of his career, it permanently changes the course of his life and questions the loyalty he has for his family. Locke is a one-man tour de force of a drama, written and directed by Steven Knight – a British filmmaker known most recently for his underrated work on Serenity (2019) starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, and writing screenplays for Robert Zemeckis’ Allied (2016) and John Wells Burnt (2015). In addition, Steven Knight wrote and directed Redemption (2013), an underrated action/drama starring Jason Statham. Nonetheless, Locke stands in a class of its own and is arguably one of the best films made in the entire decade of the 2010s. The depths of the film’s underlying themes of solitude and morality carry a tremendous amount of weight in regards to a man who fights for what he believes is right, even if it means breaking the hearts of his family and putting his career – which he is passionate about – at risk.
Locke – released in 2013 – is a picture that in logline, pitch or synopsis, appears at first, an implausible feat, let alone a tedious experience for an audience to sit through 85 minutes of watching one man drive in his car and talk on the phone. It’s not a consensus, but unanimous, when he hear the idiom of not judging a book by its cover or a movie by its poster. Ivan Locke literally drives behind the wheel of his BMW from start to finish – we never see him exit his vehicle. Moreover, he’s the only character in the film we actually see on-screen – everyone else is heard on the other end of his cellular phone. Steven Knight masterfully creates a world of suspense using one man, his motor vehicle and a phone. Taking into account the millennial obsession with mobile electronics and smart devices, the question of this film being entertaining and worthwhile becomes irrelevant and hypocritical. In this day and age, millions of citizens around the globe are constantly fastened to their smart phones from sunrise to mere seconds before their bedtime. How can one individual question whether such a simple premise of a man on the phone in his car would be an entertaining sight to see, when, the great majority of the population is addicted to their phones? Steven Knight introduces a world of characters involved in Ivan’s life and based on the different tones of their voice, we’re equipped with enough information to draw accurate conclusions of their personalities. The power of a phone isn’t underestimated in Locke; combine the repetitive incoming and outgoing calls with a BMW flying through the highways of the United Kingdom at night, and you have yourself quite the ride of a film.
Ivan Locke has a wife and kids waiting for him at home. Normally, he’d be on his way back to them on any given night. But on this particular evening, he’s headed elsewhere, causing him to miss an important football game (soccer) he promised his first-born son they’d watch together on television. Less than a year prior to this night, we learn that Ivan had an affair with a woman. It was a night of sinful lust and nothing compared to the great love Ivan has for his wife, which we can conclude based on his calm and serene tone of voice with her on the phone – even when she’s irate or heartbroken. Ivan inadvertently impregnated his mistress, and she chose to give birth. Ivan promised her he’d be there during the delivery, which is why he’s forced to skip this night at home with his family and drive across the United Kingdom to a hospital in London. When the mistress talks on the phone with Ivan, we can tell he doesn’t have feelings for her, he’s merely following through on his promise to be by her side, more for obligatory reasons than her hopelessness and despair; his mistress doesn’t have anyone in her life for support and this motivates Ivan to be there for her, but it’s not entirely why he’s doing it.
Steven Knight creates a great mystery through the suspension of information in Ivan’s motives and reveals his secrets throughout the drive which justify his actions once the story is over. There’s hallucinatory scenes of silence intermittently between phone calls as Ivan has conversations through the rear-view mirror with the ghost of his invisible father sitting in the backseat of his BMW. We learn that Ivan was a child who was abandoned by his father, completely justifying Ivan’s decision to break the news to his wife, shattering her heart by admitting his infidelity. He won’t allow this newborn child, born out of a meaningless one-night stand, to grow up without a father. Ivan is sparing this child the fate of his own upbringing by being moral within a state of immoral actions. Ivan juggles multiple phone calls between his desolate mistress, his heartbroken wife, his disappointed son, and he does all of this with such tranquility in his tone of voice, it makes us think it’s his only way of masking the internal fire that rages inside his soul. Amid all the chaos of his life unravelling as he drives a long-distance trip on the highways at night, Ivan balances multiple phone calls with his construction team in a dispute over cement and foundation for a newly constructed high-rise building. It’s here, where Tom Hardy’s performance shines because we see a clear shift in his facial expressions and body language, in addition to his tone of his voice and sense of urgency as he guides and advises his colleague on the logistics of the job, since he won’t be able to attend to the site on the following day.
Movies that playout in continuous, present time possess a subconscious layer of heightened tension in the audience, regardless of what’s at stake in the storyline. Take Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2001), written by Larry Cohen (Cellular), Colin Farrell’s Stu Shepard is a successful Publicist who’s trapped inside of a phone booth for the great majority of the film as he talks to a sniper threatening to kill him if he doesn’t admit to his wife his unfaithfulness in having an ongoing affair. Granted, Joel Schumacher was able to cutaway to hostage negotiators and police detectives to maintain entertaining pacing, in addition to the public citizens swarming through the busy New York City streets. Colin Farrell’s character wasn’t the only person we saw either. But even still, the power of continuous time on the phone was put on tremendous display. Steven Knight has much less to work with in Locke, so he cuts away to the various knick-knacks spread about the interior of Ivan’s BMW which represent his preoccupied mentality. Ivan wears multiple bracelets and has a wide variety of miscellaneous items in his car that paint a layered portrait of his personality. Steven Knight cuts away to the BMWs headlights and taillights with occasional edits to overhead shots of the vehicle travelling the speed-limit through the highway as well as views of the lanes Ivan changes through; all of this in conjunction with the multiple conversations Ivan engages in, results in a suspenseful experience.
The most brilliant element of Locke is the way Steven Knight tells a story involving controversial themes and how he leaves it open for debate, with a unbiassed perspective as opposed to leaning toward one point-of-view over another. One can’t help but think about the debate of abortion. Ivan’s mistress decided to have the baby, and clearly, based on Ivan’s actions, he gave her full control of the decision. Abortion, according to scripture, is a sin and erroneously equivalent to murder. Nevertheless, with the separation of church and state, it’s legal in the United States, leaving it as a decision to be made by the impregnated woman, who has complete freedom of will on whether or not she decides to give birth. The judgmental debate ceasing to exist may or may not be beneficial, considering no single human has the authority or power to judge someone on the basis of their decision to abort or give birth. It is completely unknown to man whether God will judge accordingly, and to what degree of severity or forgiveness. Each human being in life should not be ultimately judged based on them committing abortion. Is it wrong for Ivan to leave his family and be by the side of his mistress upon her delivery? We can understand his justification, based on the mere absence of his father in his own life, causing him to be honorable. But, does his infidelity contradict his honor? Will his wife forgive him, like Stu Shepard’s wife forgave him, in Phone Booth? These profound questions arising throughout the film are what make Locke such a powerful film. Tom Hardy is an excellent actor – one of the best. But what makes Ivan Locke a superior character to any other role Tom Hardy has performed, is because Ivan represents the genuine condition of a human being forced to make moral decisions based on immoral actions.