Review: Locke (2014)

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Director: Steven Knight
Screenwriter: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, with voice performances from Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Bill Milner, Tom Holland & Danny Webb
Runtime: 85 min // Certificate: 15


With 84 of its 85 minutes set solely within the confines of the main character’s car, Locke’s most impressive feature is the manner in which director Steven Knight manages to (mostly) avoid falling into the trap of relying too heavily on the film’s “gimmick” to see it through. Whilst it’s perhaps more admirable – not least as a result of said gimmick – than it is “good”, Knight’s tale of a man who watches, or rather listens, as his whole life starts to collapse around him in the space of a single night still has a lot to offer in terms of both direction and solid storytelling, though even with such a short runtime it does start to run pretty low on fuel as it rumbles towards its somewhat inevitable but still unsatisfactory conclusion.

It’s difficult to talk about the plot in much detail without spoiling anything, though if you think you know what you’re in for based on the trailers then you’re probably wrong. From the moment it starts, Locke wrong foots its audience into believing that peril and devastation are just around the corner, which is what makes what is, at its core, a rather unremarkable story seem all the more thrilling. Despite the plot’s innate sketchiness, which is only exacerbated by the single-location in which it all takes place, Knight manages to craft a believable scenario that will have you on the edge of your seat, even though the actual minutiae of the plot are all highly pedestrian indeed.

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The film hinges, naturally, on the performance of Tom Hardy, a man whose company we are forced to keep for the duration, and though his Welsh accent is a terrible distraction (not least because it’s so wildly inconsistent and unnecessary), he carries it all with impeccable skill. As Ivan Locke, Hardy demonstrates incredible restraint; it would be very easy to manufacture false tension with an overzealous performance that misrepresents the film’s tone, but an actor of Hardy’s stature was never going to let that happen. He plays it just right; you feel his frustration, his anger and his helplessness because it feels so genuine. He captures the personal importance of Locke’s situation without making it out to be some grand dilemma. Thanks to Hardy, it becomes less of a thriller and more of a rich – if not a little repetitive – character study of a man going through some rough shit, which I’m sure is something we can all relate to.

However, despite its single-location, Locke is anything but a one-man show. Based on his work here, it’s clear that Steven Knight is a better director than he is a screenwriter as, though the script has a tendency to slip into incongruous philosophical musings, he manages to take a claustrophobic environment and mould it to suit his multiple aims. Locke speaks to a number of different people in a number of different locations, none of whom / which we ever see, yet thanks to the way in which Knight makes his rather mechanical, industrial setting burst into life, the audience is able to visualise each situation in quite a lot of detail. Furthermore, the brilliant vocal performances from people like Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott help drive the drama on and give it some life, even in its more solitary moments.

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Nevertheless, there’s something about Locke which didn’t click for me. Most of the problems come in the final act, when Knight has to wrap things up without resorting to exactly the predictable conclusions that he struggles to avoid. Rather than leave things ambiguous, Knight opts for either neatness or upset; there’s no middle ground. Similarly, though Hardy’s performance is great, there’s a certain element of his character that felt wholly contrived and didn’t fit the rest of the drama; namely, his relationship and “conversations” with his Father. Even though it clocks in at just 85 minutes, the film feels a bit too baggy and unfocussed. The three main threads are undone by a need to introduce a darker element to things which, considering how genuine most of it feels, struck me as wholly unnecessary.

Locke isn’t a masterpiece but as a slice of experimental thriller cinema, it is certainly an admirable piece of work. Tom Hardy delivers a fantastic performance (even with his dodgy Welsh twang) and Steven Knight shows an excellent knack for restrained, focussed directing and intelligent storytelling. It doesn’t always work, and you sometimes get the impression that the idea is better than the execution, but I still have quite a lot of respect for what Knight has achieved. It’s far from a traditional “thriller” but it’ll no doubt feel you leaving fraught with tension all the same. It’s a well-crafted film, albeit one that misses the mark a couple of times too often, that is worth seeing just to get an idea of what can be done with such a minimalist concept.