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Locke

Year: 2013
Production Co: IM Global
Director: Steven Knight
Writer: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Tom Holland, Alice Lowe

There have been a lot of movies with similar gimmicks to this one. The most obvious one is Buried, which featured Ryan Reynolds as a kidnapping victim who wakes up in a coffin, but lesser examples are My Dinner With Andre, Rear Window, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Lighthouse, Das Boot and Reservoir Dogs, where the story takes place in a single location but where we leave for flashbacks and pickups in other places.

Locke is the story of a man driving along a British motorway in his car, and we stay with him in his car the entire time. There's nothing terribly exciting on screen, but when it's over you realise what a rare creative accomplishment it's been – even though you've watched a guy driving in a car for 90 minutes it's a very emotionally resonant experience.

Breaks between scenes or acts are managed with nothing more than panning shots across the highway or alongside the car as Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) makes his way towards London from Birmingham, and then we're back in the car with him and his carphone, the two of them telling the entire story.

It takes about 30-40 minutes to tease out the entire plight Locke finds himself in, but it starts with him leaving a building site where he's some sort of foreman or senior engineer (owing to the BMW SUV he drives). He's preparing to turn one way, sits at the green light and suddenly veers off the other way, making some sort of weighty snap decision we're not privy to yet.

He makes phone calls to his sons, waiting at home with their mum for him to arrive so they can all watch a planned soccer game together. Then he takes a phone call from his boss, who he dispassionately tells he has to suddenly drive to London. His boss is horrified, Locke apparently the critical part of what he keeps referring to as the biggest concrete pour in European history on the building site he works at – a duty he can't possibly leave. When the boss starts saying he's going to have to call 'Chicago', we get a sense of what a disaster it is that Locke has left in his wake.

He receives calls from a woman who comes across as emotional and needy, and we discover she's in hospital in London about to give birth, the event Locke has suddenly decided he needs to attend.

He also talks to his wife, and we learn through what he doesn't tell her that the baby was the result of a brief and meaningless affair. Of course, he's going to have to come clean and explain why he's dropped everything to go to London instead of go home to his loving family, but that's just one aspect of dread creeping over him.

The other is that while he's fielding calls from his enraged boss and possibly losing his job over his actions, he's also calling a very ill-equipped co-worker to guide in taking over the duties necessary for the concreting to go right so the whole thing doesn't go from a disaster to a catastrophe.

And in a few scenes, Locke talks to himself in the mirror and we see perfect sense in his being willing to throw his entire life away on some woman he doesn't even really like. I won't say too much because I've probably given away a bit too much already, but Locke is talking to his own father, a man whose physical features he can probably see in his own face but who he's so determined not to be like he's willing to lose his job and family to prove he's better.

It's the most dramatic of dramatic conundrums and the script delivers it all perfectly, meting out details in perfect sequence and at the perfect time and with nothing but what Locke knows in his own head. In that sense it's a little bit Hitchcockian, with the inciting event having happened and the audience left to piece it together with no exposition, just what's going on in the moment of each phone call.

Hardy also plays it all with an extra dimension than just the words. He seems to be a straight-backed, stoic man who generally doesn't break a sweat, and even while fighting a cold (which Hardy had in real life during the week-long shoot) he rarely breaks a sweat as he tries to stop his life spiralling out of control, only very rarely giving in to fits of anger.

Even though there's not a lot to say about the visual design and execution, it would have been quite a feat not just to pace and edit it all together but capture it cinematographically, but it all does what great photography is supposed to do in movies – be invisible and support a gripping story about a character we invest in.

It's understated and plays its various hands with aplomb, and you'll never imagine watching a guy drive down a highway making phone calls can be so dramatically involving. The fact that it ends without you really knowing what happens and whether everything turns out all right for Locke isn't nearly as frustrating as it sounds either. He's made the decision to prove his own worth to himself so there's little else to say about that, and the movie is about everything going wrong as a consequence, not whether he puts it all back together later.

And for trivia hounds, the voice of one of his kids is none other than Tom (Spider-man) Holland.

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