Be nice to the drivers with whom you share the road, you don’t know the battles they’re fighting.
Touted as a one-man play, longtime screenwriter and two-time feature director Steven Knight said his wheels started spinning about the film-as-play format while on set his first directing endeavor, the Jason Statham-starring Redemption, which wrapped not months before he honed in on Locke.
“I’d just finished the Statham picture … and the whole process just made me think to look again at the basics of what the job is: Get a load of people into a room, turn off the lights and get them to watch a screen for 90 minutes, and how many other ways there are, without using all the tricks that normally go with film,” he said in a recent interview with Indiewire.
“It just made me think, ‘How much of this is necessary? … Surely there’s a way to shoot a play?’ ”
The minimalist Locke was shot in its entirety every night for a week, sequence by sequence, in real time. Tom Hardy shares the screen with only the items in his car, his crumbling livelihood and the choices that got him there. Quite different from the last character he played in The Dark Knight Rises, this time the mask is off, and vulnerability on.
Ivan Locke is a pretty in-charge dude. No funny business, no fast ones, he can navigate his way through life’s road bumps with little to no damage. Husband of 15 years and father to two spritely young soccer fans, he keeps his head down, his chest up, bread on the table, the status quo’d, etc. At the office and on the farm, he is an invaluable asset to the company in all senses, the strength of his constitution as sturdy as the concrete he lays for a living.
But that is not the Ivan we meet in the spectacular Hardy’s one-man tour de discourse. That Ivan exists through the testimonies of various character witnesses, testimonies Ivan listens to from his car phone during his last-minute, though not unexpected, trip from Birmingham to London. The whole movie and only setting is Hardy in the car, on the road, to infinity.
“This isn’t like you,” his right-hand construction man says. Ivan, we learn, is expected on site in less than eight hours to head the biggest concrete pour Europe has ever seen, aside from military sites. But he’s needed elsewhere, and his choice has been made. Ivan, the dependable perfectionist, is leaving it in the hands of an inexperienced subordinate, with tens of millions of dollars and his job on the line. Needless to say, Chicago is pissed. He has 120 miles to figure it out.
“I’m hearing you but I don’t believe it’s you,” his wife says. Ivan, we learn, was also expected at home to watch a big soccer match with his family. But he’s needed elsewhere, and his choice has been made.
He’s needed at a Saint Mary’s hospital in London, where another woman is in labor with his child.
His wife, who minutes earlier was reciting to him the list of sausages and beer she’d dutifully purchased for a night with her family, is pissed.
Ivan is also staving off the ghost of his father, who let his paternal duties fall to the wayside when life got bumpy. Ivan laments what he feels was cowardly abandonment, and by being there for the birth of his baby — supporting a woman he barely knows — he is seizing an opportunity to restore honor to his name, which he regards with gravity reserved for embattled royal families on Game of Thrones.
The buffet of complications thrusts him into an impromptu game of Whac-A-Mole the night duty calls. The baby is two months early. This is Judgment Night. Truths are bled, tears are shed, and honor defended.
The family and career we’re told to work for, our life pillars, can act as obstacles to becoming who we’re told to try to be, and Ivan speaks often during the 85-minute reckoning about needing to know he’s going in one direction, the right direction. Instead of the common character revelation or evolution, he experiences a wave of validation as he listens to his son relive a soccer player’s unexpected performance over the phone.
“This is Coldwell we’re talking about, the one you always say is a donkey. But not tonight, tonight he was a miracle. He didn’t pass, he didn’t square off, he just kept running and he got it in.” He tears up at the parallels.
His son then says, “Mom didn’t even see it, she was crying.” She doesn’t recognize the good, because she’s too consumed by the bad. The decision to include this line bears interesting implications about the proper response to an unfaithful husband, and might beg that old cry of double standard at best and misogyny at worst when it comes to socially acceptable, or at least understandable, behavior from a husband. Then again, there is something noble to be said for the man who risks his job, his home and his family to right a wrong, especially when it involves a sacrificial display of loyalty to a woman he has no connection to outside this baby.
Locke embodies the grandeur of a spaceship and humility of a pumpkin carriage — such is the dichotomy we encompass as humans, the bigness of our smallness, the generality of the specific. Locke isn’t a story of salvation, not even a slice of story about salvation. It portrays a universal state of mind at the micro level. Literally and figuratively, cars are the vehicles to both our destination and our destiny. We all drive as best we can in the direction we feel is necessary; sometimes that direction is safely tucked away with the flow of traffic, sometimes it calls for a few illegal u-turns. But staying the course, sticking to the plan and heeding our own moral GPS, that’s the most important — collateral road-kill be damned.