Locke has its flaws, but manages to satisfy as a minimalist work of social realism that is both dramatically-rich and often quite engaging.
In the film Locke, highly-respected Birmingham construction foreman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is on the eve of what shall be the biggest - and, in turn, the most challenging - job of his career. However, upon finishing work the night before Ivan chooses to make the drive to London, in order to be alongside Bethan (Olivia Colman), a woman with whom Ivan had a one-night stand - and who is now preparing to give birth to his child earlier than expected. Over the course of the drive to the hospital, Locke must not only break the news to his wife, Katrina (Ruth Wilson), but also ensure that the impending major construction project goes to plan. But will he be able to save either his job or his marriage, in the process?
Locke is as close to a pure exercise in minimalist filmmaking as they come; not only is Tom Hardy the only person shown onscreen (the other characters are only heard via speakerphone), but nearly the entirety of the film's action is restricted to the interior of Locke's car and shots of his vehicle driving on the highway. While the resulting movie is a somewhat heavy-handed piece of storytelling, this cinematic "experiment" is overall a successful one.
Writer/director Steven Knight's scripts generally deal with social issues that concern the English working class (see: Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises), but his screenplay for Locke takes a more personal approach to examining the struggles (and, in turn, the moral values) of the modern blue-collar professional - allowing the film to have a more subtle political subtext, compared to some of Knight's previous work. Then again, here the dialogue has a bad habit of going overboard with the symbolism, often drawing on-the-nose parallels between Locke's methodical techniques for keeping his affairs in order - both at work and in his home life, alike. Because of the film's simplistic design, it's harder to just overlook such writing defects (the same goes for the obvious plot conveniences).
However, thanks to Tom Hardy's performance, Locke retains the intended atmosphere of naturalism and emotional intensity throughout its running time, even when the film's text and subtext threaten to become one and the same. Hardy, as he has now done many a time before, does excellent work here, brining subtle nuance and the right mix of intensity and composure necessary to make Locke a believable character, whether he's imaging talking with his deceased father or jumping around ongoing conversations with real-living people. As such, in the moments when Locke does lose his cool, it feels earned and cathartic, rather than like dramatic show-boating.
Knight's direction on Locke is solid, on the whole. The variety of shot choices made by him and the cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) usually give rise to clean images that do not call unnecessary attention to themselves. Likewise, the editing by Justine Wright (The Iron Lady) links the visuals together in ways that both enhance the thematic substance and keep the film's pace flowing and smooth. As far as cinematic one-man shows go, this is certainly one of the more consistently engaging and intense in recent memory.
Still, there are a handful of instances where Knight and his collaborators insert obvious visual metaphors, which stick out all the more because the rest of the proceedings are so grounded in their execution. All things considered, though, the composition and moments of visual Impressionism in Locke works - allowing Locke's vehicle to succeed as the symbolic embodiment of the modern lifestyle (its conveniences and hectic nature alike).
As mentioned before, Locke is foremost Hardy's show, though the cast's experienced character actors still manage to carve out enough room to leave an impression, simply with their vocal performances. Both Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur) and Ruth Wilson (Luther) communicate the right amount of pathos through their voices to invite sympathy, as the women affected by Locke's noble-minded, but certainly questionable actions. However, as far as the voice cast goes, the standout is definitely Andrew Scott (you likely know him as Moriarty on Sherlock), as the often flabbergasted Donal: a fellow who Locke is heavily dependent on, to make sure his big job doesn't fall apart.
Locke has its flaws, but manages to satisfy as a minimalist work of social realism that is both dramatically-rich and often quite engaging - despite the film rarely venturing outside the confines of the title character's modern-day automobile (and all the technical gadgety that comes with it). Even those moviegoers who aren't generally fans of the single-setting format might want to give this one a look; you may end up enjoying the ride more than you would expect.
Locke runs 85 minutes long and is Rated R for language throughout. Now playing in a limited theatrical release.