Film Review: “Locke” — Hell on Wheels

All that WASP self-reliance and fortitude, and I, the Jew, am thinking, “Isn’t anyone getting hungry? Doesn’t anyone want to use the potty?”

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Tom Hardy is not sitting pretty in "Locke."

Tom Hardy is not sitting pretty in “Locke.”

By Gerald Peary

Until there’s a movie of Krapp’s Last Tape, I’m not a fan of one-person pictures, a one-pony trick, whether it’s Sandra Bullock battling in space in Relativity, Robert Redford struggling in the hold of a yacht in All is Lost, or Ryan Reynolds having a coffin fit in Buried. All that WASP self-reliance and fortitude, and I, the Jew, am thinking, “Isn’t anyone getting hungry? Doesn’t anyone want to use the potty and make?” There’s more of the solitary tsouris with the British drama, Locke. One guy’s in his car for 85 minutes of screen time, with neither restaurant nor lavatory stops, nor a need to fill ‘er up. Nor other on-screen persons. It’s just Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) zooming from Birmingham to London, up shit’s creek sans paddle. It’s the night that his life collapses, job and marriage. As a movie, some of this works and some doesn’t. And some of that solo time in the car, predictably, gets trying to watch.

Locke is a Welsh construction site foreman on the way up, being assigned to the mightiest of projects, such as a skyscraper being erected overseas in Chicago. He’s wed to a woman he loves, they have two boys. Very good. But on this night, he’s threatening to botch it all. He’s driving to a hospital where Bethen, a woman with whom he had a one-nighter, is having their baby. Though he barely knows her, though he’s not in love with her, he feels responsibility as the father. That means he can’t be around for the pouring of concrete for his key construction job, setting up a potential firing. That means he won’t be home for the night, setting up a possible divorce. All he’s got securely is his automobile which, lucky for him, is a BMW with a Bluetooth phone setup.

Locke begins the movie stepping into his auto with mud on his boots, a working-class bloke. But he’s the kind of classless worker we know better from Hollywood than Brit cinema, more floating middle class, with the gentlest of Welsh accents, easy for Americans to understand. Not quite believable, but an explanation, I guess, of why – the Welsh Dream? – Locke’s moved so far ahead, and how he possesses that luxurious car.

And what does he do in the car, to keep the film going? He gabs and gabs, hopping from one phone call to another, from boss to employee, from his football-loving sons to his suddenly estranged wife to his sort-of-girlfriend, from nurses to doctors at the hospital where it’s debated if Bethen should get a Caesarean. “Are you the closest relative?” a physician asks. “I’m the father,” Locke says, making a distinction.

It’s enough drama for one evening to have Locke try to keep the needy, hysterical Bethen calm while, call waiting, his spouse wants him out of the house. But there’s more, trouble with the concrete to be poured, as Locke somehow micromanages a drunken underling at the other end of the phone line to do the right thing. (Locke is as prideful and obsessed with his Chicago building as a Howard Roark.) Also, there’s Locke’s angry boss. And finally, and absurdly, there’s Locke’s ghost of a father, at whom, when he’s not on the phone, Locke rails at bitterly.

When Locke works, it’s because director Steven Knight is, for the most part, an able screenwriter. Knight has done scripts for Stephen Frears and David Cronenberg. And undeniably, actor Tom Hardy is fine in the central role. He remains fairly calm, not flustered, juggling all these bad things thrown his way. Finally, the ending of Locke is not so bad, just a sliver of hope where Hollywood would have insisted on learned lessons and reconciliation.

Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of 9 books on cinema, writer-director of the documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess.

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  1. Jack on July 6, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Well, at least the author makes it clear at the outset that he’s not a fan of small, one-actor films. The review reads like the result of someone determined not to enjoy the picture. I can only urge readers to not be swayed by his apathy: the film is riveting.

  2. Muff on August 10, 2014 at 12:05 am

    This is a terrible review, and although this sounds a banal playground insult if you haven’t seen the movie: the review says a lot more about the writer’s lack of character than the film itself. If you have seen the movie, you’ll now what I’m talking about.

  3. Gerald Peary on August 16, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Jack, you’ve got it wrong. It’s an ordeal to sit through a movie I’m not enjoying. When I see Locke or any film, I want a good time, emotionally, aesthetically, intellectually. I know Locke has given lots of people a good deal of pleasure, and I’m glad for that. I just couldn’t quite warm up to it.

    Sorry, Muff,that I have a “lack of character” because I wasn’t crazy about a movie which you liked. And critics are said to be judgmental!

  4. tim jackson on August 17, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Snack and bathroom habits aside, I loved the sound of Tom Hardy’s voice and that accent. He is a compelling actor and I kept trying to see “Bronson” inside the hassled Locke. I agree it can be a bit rigorous at times when there’s no visual change-up really, but I was so drawn into Hardy’s ability to make this idea seem real that I moved right along with it and then it was over. I can imagine a more dour mood or sleepy mode I could have phased out, but had the good fortune to rather enjoy the ride. Nonetheless, I did enjoy Gerald’s take on it.

  5. Graham on August 24, 2022 at 8:57 am

    Why is he checking up on road closures in Birmingham, England if the building is being erected in Chicago? Is the building 4k miles wide? Did you think the closures were in Birmingham, Michigan? It’s a little closer to Chicago but the building would still have to be about 400 miles wide. That wouldn’t explain why he has a 10 minute conversation with an English member of the Birmingham city council about the roads. The only way to miss these details is either you didn’t watch the whole movie, or you were taking a much needed toilet break, because apparently, you can’t hold it longer than 85 minutes.

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