Taut, tense, and as tight as a vise, Locke is a break from the norm, a telling character study, and a chamber piece with the impact of high drama. Simple in concept but complex in execution, and boasting a towering performance, Locke is a pure distillation of abstract cinematic storytelling.

Tom Hardy (Bronson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) plays Ivan Locke, the steadiest construction foreman in Europe. On the eve of the biggest job of his life, Ivan leaves the site, gets behind the wheel of his BMW SUV, and merges onto a motorway that should take him from Birmingham to London in less than an hour and a half, if the traffic holds up. That Ivan has decided to embark on this trip means he’s going to lose everything that ever mattered to him.

Evoking a young Marlon Brando, Hardy has emerged as one of the screen’s most versatile and compelling presences. By turns seductive, heartbreaking, thrilling, and flat-out explosive, Hardy is a blazing wonder as Locke. Minute-by-minute, he has you spellbound. With a spot-on Welsh accent and an extraordinary self-discipline belying his inner turmoil, Hardy is a powerhouse of claustrophobic suspense and fierce emotion. Locke is an acting showcase, a solo act by a soloist that will now be remembered, and Hardy’s sedentary tour de force.

Shot in just six nights using a car mounted with three cameras, Locke is organically constricting yet expertly tuned, an ingeniously executed exercise in cinematic minimalism. All dialogue consists of telephone calls, spoken by Hardy and voiced by a number of others in the roles of wife, lover, boss, colleague, and sons. Writer-turned-director Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Redemption) expanded a 30-page script into a 90-page feature, somehow making concrete compelling subject matter in the process.

Locke is a masterclass in how the most local, most hemmed-in stories can reverberate with the power of big, universal themes. Revolving around questionable intentions from a man whose efforts to straighten the family name may in fact do the opposite, it’s an intimate portrayal of a man’s life as it implodes, a war of attrition between emotion and pragmatism, the rare thriller fueled by stress rather than speed. It engrosses as it unspools, and pays dividends after it ends.

Lean, slim, and mostly unique (Drive and All Is Lost notwithstanding), Locke is undeniably a kind of show-off trick, too contained, too well-carpentered, too self-consciously classical. But it’s a mesmerizing reminder that artists can astonish with the simplest of methods, and for the most part, it works like gangbusters. Tours don’t come much more forceful. Once you’ve taken this 83-minute drive with Hardy, you’ll never forget his face.


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