High Octane Cinema: Locke (2013)
If you are setting your entire film inside of a car, there are plenty of crutches you could use to create excitement. High speed chases with cops and criminals, on the move shootouts, death (and gravity) defying jumps, and yet Locke uses none of these devices. For the entire 85 minute runtime you watch a man drive a car (decent, but nothing special) down a long stretch of highway without as much as a flat tire or a police siren fake out. Instead one hundred percent of the action happens in phone calls with unseen people, yet it's thrilling all the same.
It's the night before the biggest day of Ivan Locke's (Tom Hardy) cement pouring career. He gets off the job and starts to head home before he receives a phone call from a woman he had a one night stand with months prior. She's having his baby and it's coming tonight. Locke reroutes towards London to be there for the birth of his child and calls his wife to break the news of his infidelity.
Ivan spends the rest of the night attempting to hold his life together by juggling phone calls between his wife, Katrina (Ruth Wilson), his labor-induced girlfriend, Bethan (Olivia Colman), his sons, Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Miner), who want nothing more than to watch the night's big football match with their father. Throw in his drunk coworker Donal (Andrew Scott), who is now in charge of the big concrete job in his absence, but needs a lot of help figuring out the logistics in his inebriated state, and you have some high stakes drama at hand. He also takes time between calls to have imaginary heart-to-hearts with his absentee father.
Tom Hardy is no stranger to spending an entire movie in a car, and he turns in my favorite performance of his career so far here. Ivan is not a sympathetic character. He does own up to his mistakes immediately, taking unwanted responsibilities head on rather than weaseling his way out of them like his own father did to him, but in doing so he ironically abandons his already established family. Hardy plays this complicated mess of events in a matter of fact manner (and with a case of the sniffles). He has a calm demeanor and knows exactly the right thing to say at the right time. His conviction stays true even as the events get worse and worse.
Although they never show up on screen, the entire supporting cast turns out impressive, lived-in performances. With just their voices we feel the heartbreak and frustration from Wilson, pain and loneliness from Colman, from Holland and Miner the innocent disappointment of missing the match and confusion as to why their mother is so upset, and Scott's drunken overwhelmed scrambling and worry. Hardy's performance is great, but would ultimately mean nothing if he was speaking with anybody who was less than fully committed. The movie was filmed in one location in just over a few days with the actors live calling Hardy in the semi-pulled car as he needed to speak to them. The technique makes sure the drama builds realistically and seamlessly.
There is not much to look at along the drive, less so considering it's the middle of the night, but considering the limited palette it's incredibly impressive. The road stretches on and on, the only thing changing are the different sets of headlights flying by. The all natural lighting is stunning, all of it provided by other vehicles headlights, street lamps, and the glow of Ivan's phone. There is an isolated, empty feel that this facilitates that is alienating, echoing the story.
The drive plays out in real time, and over the course of the picture, Ivan is kicked out of his home, fired from his job despite ushering the big pour to its conclusion, and a has a baby born. It may be the most eventful 85 minutes anybody's ever experienced. We don't really find out what the outcome of this night is, whether his family or job takes him back or if he has to start a new life with Bethan, but Ivan has attempted the right thing. Perhaps he does not deserve redemption, but if he were to receive it it wouldn't feel unjust.