This is the movie that's just Tom Hardy driving in his car for 90 minutes, talking on his cell. We say things like "Oh, I'd watch that guy read the phone book," and this is almost that. Except it's absolutely riveting.
Still, I'm seeing Locke getting called a "thriller," which is a little bit of a stretch. What Hardy's Ivan Locke is driving toward and what he's talking to various people about on the phone are matters of some suspense, and his motives end up being something that you could have wonderful heated discussions about for hours and hours afterward. But none of it is the usual stuff of thrillers. What's going on here is that Locke's life is falling apart in the two-hour drive from Birmingham to London — the film starts out in the interior of his car and never leaves, almost unspooling in real time — and he's trying to manage his collapse in a practical way that can never work.
See, 'cause … well, I won't tell you what so urgently awaits him in London, but it's no spoiler to reveal that what he's leaving behind in Birmingham is "the biggest concrete pour Europe has ever seen." Locke is a construction foreman — an expert for the megacorp whose project he's helping build — and he's required on the scene for the big event the next morning. Except he's in his car driving away from it. Some of his calls are to his assistant, explaining what needs to be done to get the job done right. Locke is very philosophical about his work: "You don't trust God when it comes to concrete," he explains with the patience of a priest talking to a child. He's downright passionate about concrete. He seems to understand it better than he understands people.
Writer/director Steve Knight's brilliant script — and this one is so much better than his previous film, the ambitious but tragicomically flawed Redemption — is played out like watching Locke try to pour emotional concrete, as if he doesn't understand that people are not concrete and they will not settle into the feelings you want them to settle into if you get the mix of emotions just right. Maybe he has a slight tinge of Asperger's. Maybe he's just not emotionally mature but trying to be; his phone calls to the folks back home and the people ahead of him in London reveal that he's trying to do a "right thing" in a situation where there probably isn't a single right thing to be found, and yet if there were a wrongest thing he might do, a thing that would cause maximum damage all around, to all aspects of his life both personal and professional, he seems to have found that.
Hardy is so still and so calm through it all, and yet there's a sense that Locke might be throwing a sort of tantrum: Maybe he's just broken an emotional last straw of his own?
This is a marvelous film: simple, elegant, haunting. It may not be a thriller, but it's certainly thrilling to see a filmmaker take such a daring risk and have it pay off so solidly.