Starring Tom Hardy. Rated 14A.
A man gets in his car, and keeps driving. That’s no punch-line setup; it’s an accurate plot description for an exercise in minimalism that also offers maximum exposure for the acting talent of Tom Hardy. Better known to us for his brooding beefcake in Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises, he works solo here, along with a superb voice cast that exists only on his hands-free car phone.
Writer-director Steven Knight previously wrote memorable scripts for Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, and directed Jason Statham in last year’s relatively cerebral action flick Redemption. For his sophomore effort, the not-so-dark Knight straps his protagonist into a closed space for the tale’s full 90 minutes, unfolding it in something close to real time.
Hardy’s Ivan Locke is a high-level U.K. contractor who specializes in moving concrete—and you don’t have to be a philosopher (like John Locke, who pioneered thoughts about consciousness and moral responsibility) to recognize that this guy isn’t rooted on the spiritual plane. When we meet him, he’s driving down the M6 from Birmingham, presumably toward “the biggest concrete pour in European history”. His wife (Ruth Wilson) and sons expect him at home for a televised soccer match. In fact, Ivan must be somewhere else, as he explains cryptically to his flabbergasted boss (Ben Daniels) and somewhat thick assistant (Andrew Scott) in calls that consume his journey, and ours.
No one’s been kidnapped, and his BMW won’t explode if he drives under the speed limit, or anything like that. Instead, a woman (Olivia Colman) he barely knows—and who’s “no oil painting”—is about to have his child, and he’s determined to do the right thing, even if it ruins his life.
Speaking in a rich Welsh accent, the bearded actor makes you believe his character has far more passion for erecting monuments (“We get to steal a piece of the sky!”) than for cementing human relationships. The frequently witty, often poetic screenplay is at its best when it keeps his motivations opaque.
It hits bad speed bumps when Locke overexplains, most noisily when our ambulatory antihero starts yelling at his absent dad in the back seat. And you eventually wonder how so many details of this giant job could have been left to the last minute.
The night-lit cinematography is gorgeous, however, and the movie captures something elusive about the bittersweet futility of, as Ivan says again and again, “trying to make it all okay”.