The last time mainstream audiences were locked in a one-character/fixed-setting experiment along this line, it was called Buried. Better to ride shotgun with Tom Hardy in high-octane mode in Locke than be trapped in a pine box with Ryan Reynolds.
The night before Ivan Locke (Hardy) is set to lay the foundation on a superstructure “whose shadow will stretch a mile long,” the big-league construction foreman is called upon to be present at the birth of his child. The kid’s mother is not his wife, yet our hero practically embraces the opportunity to torch work, family, and his short-term future by gassing up the family car to race to the side of a one-time fling he hasn’t seen in nine months. (It was her decision to keep the baby.)
We begin Locke’s sacrificial exodus to help rectify a past indiscretion in early-flight. Hands-free cellular exchanges fill the cabin and bring viewers up to speed. The transport becomes a veritable switchboard-on-wheels, fielding calls from his wife, kids, and baby momma as well as perplexed coworkers and enraged chieftains.
It’s a gutsy move from a guy who turns out to be a rather disagreeable center of attention. What can be said of a man who drives an underling to drink and quickly turns coward by using cellular technology to permanently kiss his wife and kids goodbye? When his driving concern is revealed early on, we begin to question whether this trip was necessary. The ride stops on a dime every time Locke — bent on not repeating the sins of an absentee father — flies off on a raging, NyQuil-induced exchange with a figmental backseat sire.
It takes more than background movement to keep a single-location shoot visually arresting and a cut above canned-radio. (The trailer had Sorry, Wrong Number written all over it.) Writer-director Steven Knight (Redemption) would have been wiser to treat the abstract shapes that surround and encase his one-man show as supporting players, not arty distractions. There are light flares, double-exposures, and background streetlights doubling as strands of delicately strung shallow focus beads, but after those tricks wear thin, Knight does little more with the space than grant Locke occupance.
Still, Hardy makes for a compelling psychological tour guide, utilizing much more than his right foot to add forward momentum. As do the cast of equally outstanding audio-actors, not one of them sounding like a disembodied voice reciting copy in a studio. When it comes to this week’s competition, Locke is as good as it gets.