Each one of us makes them every day. Hard, easy, important, innocuous, understandable, and sometimes completely bewildering to those we love, but rarely do they involve such an all-consuming passion and depth of feeling behind them. Those decisions we make far fewer of, but when they do happen, they become the defining moments of our lives, pushing us onto the path our lives will take until another one comes along. It is one of these decisions that Locke is about, and that is all it is about, and in the face of such an economy of story and style (the film takes place inside a car for its entire post-credits length), it grows into one of the most decidedly human stories ever told.
Perhaps I’m still reeling from my experience watching Under The Skin, but lately I’ve felt better connected to the world around me, my role in it and my effect on it. The simple fact that Locke is about one man making one of the perhaps five most important, life-changing decisions of his lifetime, and sticking to it no matter what the repercussions, glued me to my seat in an entirely unexpected way. Locke transcends its existence as an exercise, an experiment on defying the limitations of cinema at best and a one-location filmed play at worst, and becomes something quite singular and breathtaking to behold. And it succeeds with no small credit to its only visible actor, Tom Hardy who, if considering a ratio of an actor’s influence to the overall quality of a film, delivers the best performance of the year so far.
You might wonder how much of a range an actor could display during a ninety minute real time commute. It’s very surprising, but also never inorganic. Hardy employs an arsenal of character tics and vocal inflections and facial expressions that draw his character Locke into someone so perfectly real that I would bet if I could ask Hardy where Locke was on October 31st, 1998, I’ve no doubt I would get an entire journal entry, or what his favorite food was, he’d be able to say without hesitation. His performance is a thing of beauty to behold, with his steely resolve for the decision he’s made coming through in every conversation he has, through his car’s bluetooth telephone system. Whether he’s trying to talk down an excited co-worker, or deliver some hard news to his wife, or trying to act like everything is okay for his children, every word out of Hardy’s mouth betrays the courage of his convictions, and a desire to make the best out of a whole series of outcomes triggered by a decision he has made. For one of the first times while watching a film, I understand the delicate balance between how much control over a situation simple conviction can give you, and how much depends on the actions of other individuals who will do what they will do. I also understand the sad reality of the distinction between decisions made based on what is right, and those made based on emotion, and the arbitrary way they can be perceived by who is observing. In that way Locke is an existential masterpiece. Directed by Steven Knight, the writer of David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, and his own Jason Statham vehicle Redemption, Locke is a powerful examination of the ripple effect of a single human action.
In exploring this, the film features in depth conversations about the business of pouring concrete, an occupation which is perfect for Hardy’s character, allowing him to embrace the time sensitive, exactness and detail-oriented qualities and let them bleed through in his performance. Some say these conversations are boring, but that ignores the beautiful realism that Knight is tapping into, which has the additional effect of treating the audience like intelligent human beings. A great film will make you feel like you’ve just dropped into the middle of a conversation where you have to piece things together, and Knight’s deliberate specificity in the dialogue takes the focus away from the exposition, and puts it solely on Hardy, who communicates the importance of his job without the film being reduced to merely presenting information.
For all it’s self-imposed restrictions, Locke is a tensely dramatic and enveloping experience. By the time it is over Knight and Hardy have successfully held a mirror up to the audience for us to reflect on similar moments we have labored through in our own lives. Whether or not I believe Locke’s decision was worth the cost pales in comparison to whether or not certain decisions I have made in my life were worth the cost, and more importantly, to all that my decisions might have ruined, whose perception is correct? Why is the best decision I have ever made not actually the worst decision I have ever made, and what is the difference?
The Verdict: Rave