If the longest journey begins with a single footstep, then for Ivan Locke – on a tense nighttime drive from the north of England into London – it starts with a single phone call.
A film totally set within the confines of a moving car, “Locke” is claustrophobically gripping and an impressive showcase for British actor Tom Hardy (“Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises”). Its dialogue-heavy minimalism may drive some to distraction; movies about cars usually involve someone being chased, after all. But the only things chasing Locke are his emotional demons.
The film starts as Ivan gets into his BMW. We learn he’s a construction foreman on a huge project, one of the largest in Europe, which is breaking ground the next day. He’s supposed to be on his way home to watch a big soccer match with his two sons and wife, who has bought his favorite beer for the occasion and has even decided to don the shirt of his favorite team.
But it’s another set of urgent calls that sends him into a tailspin while trying to pay attention to the road.
Hardy delivers a masterful performance, conveying shifting moods as well as his life story with just his face and voice. That’s no surprise as Hardy is one of this generation’s best actors and best-kept secrets. (That’s going to change in the next couple of years as he stars in the Elton John biopic “Rocketman” and the “Mad Max” reboot, “Fury Road.”)
But what is surprising is that filmmaker Steven Knight, whose previous directing credits include Jason Statham’s “Redemption,” delivers the stripped-down intensity generated by “Locke.”
Kudos to the actors on the other end of the line – especially Ruth Wilson as Locke’s wife – who are heard but never seen. As with a good radio play, they have to tell the story and maintain interest with just their voices.
Of course, the idea of setting a film around a person trapped in a confined space (“Buried”) or open space (“Gravity”) can seem like a gimmick. But when it’s done well, as it is here, it’s something else: a cinematic joyride.