Locke has a premise that just screams that it’s an artsy, independent film, the type of concept that seems like it was thought of before the plot and would subsequently suffer for it. Ivan Locke is the only character that appears on-screen and the entire film consists of him driving while talking on the phone. Film ideas generally don’t sound more pretentious than that. But you know what? This film actually works. It works quite well, in fact, and it works well primarily through the performance of Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke. If Hardy or someone of comparable talent had not been portraying the lead character, the entire production would likely have fallen flat and would have just been another forgettable arthouse flop. Instead, we get a piece of independent cinema done right, and it’s much more engaging than the premise might suggest.
For you see, Ivan Locke is not just out for a midnight drive. His son is being born in London, and the mother is not his wife. The phone conversations jump between the soon-to-be mother, the hospital staff, his distraught wife and oblivious children, and his job which he is obsessed with. Locke hasn’t told anyone about his coming offspring, and springs the news to his family over the phone. His late night excursion also puts a major work project in major jeopardy, adding some tension to a situation that is already awkward and unsettling. And yet, that added stress sums up Locke quite nicely as the man who puts his self-imposed obligations before the effects his actions will have on the people he cares about. He’s willing to put his entire life in jeopardy because he wants to do right by the child he helped bring into the world, and watching him struggle with that is precisely what the film’s all about.
And Tom Hardy portrays that struggle admirably. From calmly explaining to his wife that he understands his mistakes and is trying to make them right, to frustratedly talking an underling through a work crisis, to ranting monologues to his own absent father whom he imagines in the back seat, Hardy paints Ivan Locke as a complex, tortured, and ultimately very human and fallible individual. The actors on the other end of the phone conversations do their part well, but Hardy steals the show, and rightly so. It’s frankly quite astounding that anyone managed to take eighty minutes of film as the only face on-screen and make it as compelling as Hardy did here.
Locke is a film that shouldn’t work, but thankfully does. Its premise may sound shallow and pretentious, but the execution is anything but. If you like independent, unconventionally narrative film, then give Locke a shot. It may surprise you just how good a pretentious art flick can be.
As nebulous as the term “indie film” is, do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments below!