Tom Hardy is one of the best actors working today. At 36, the British-born performer can completely immerse himself into a role. He can be big and boisterous as in Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Bronson” or as the Batman villain Bane in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” Or he can be subtle and internalized as in John Hillcoat’s “Lawless” and Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior.” He can be charming and witty, as in Nolan’s “Inception,” or absolutely sloppy and repulsive, again in Refn’s “Bronson.”
He never seems to repeat himself. There’s no such thing as a “Tom Hardy performance.”
In the excellent feature “Locke,” by Steven Knight (the screenwriter behind David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises”), Hardy gets to try his hand at the “one-man show” movie, playing Ivan Locke, who spends the film’s 90-minute running time driving in a car. Not exactly an easy task to pull off, yet Knight and Hardy succeed in making an engaging (and, yes, exciting) movie in which Locke is developed primarily through dialogue. The supporting characters are only heard in the many phone calls Locke makes and receives.
Knight and cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos shoot “Locke” mainly in medium and close-up shots. Sometimes, the camera sits inside the car, and sometimes, it sits just outside the car’s windshields and windows, capturing the glare of streetlights and other car lights as they move across the glass. These shots — along with numerous dissolves to the other activity on the freeway — give the movie a neat Michael Mann-esque “Collateral” look: At night in the city, it’s never truly dark.
A word of warning: Though the movie has a noir-ish look, the situation is surprisingly normal. The exchanges Locke has are among his family, friends and employers. For movie purposes Knight heightens the situation, but he still keeps it authentic.
Locke is a construction foreman who’s very knowledgeable about cement and cement pouring. He’s so good he can organize a major cement pour over the phone. As silly as this may sound, it’s actually refreshing.
As far as plot is concerned, there isn’t much. Essentially, the movie is about how Locke’s life falls apart over the course of the drive. Hardy plays him sort of like a hostage negotiator (with the hostage being his own life), trying to maintain order and composure. It’s a performance of remarkable restraint and nuance. Oftentimes, it’s his subtle bodily movements and facial features that are most impressive. There are moments while he’s on call with someone when he’s doing his best to keep calm, but you can detect a slight look of panic or stress in his face, or the moment when he quickly checks his pulse on his neck during another conversation, suggesting perhaps that he has a history with losing his temper but is going to keep himself together tonight. It’s these little movements — as much as the conversation — that help develop Locke’s character.
The central theme of “Locke” is redemption, or, more specifically, taking responsibilities for your actions. There’s nothing forcing Locke to take this drive other than his own conscience. He’s made mistakes in his past, namely having an affair with a coworker and getting her pregnant. He’s driving to London to witness the birth of his illegitimate child.
He also has some pent-up aggression against his father, whom, we gather, was absent from his childhood. At times, Locke has imaginary conversations with him in the backseat. In a way, Locke is proving to his dad and especially himself that he can be a good person and take responsibility for what he’s done.
But for how dour the movie can be at times, Knight ends it on a hopeful note, suggesting Locke could get things back on track.
Ultimately, everything goes back to Hardy. Even though Locke could be looked at as a selfish character, Hardy still makes him extremely likable. Hardy seems to get better with each role, and while it’s very unlikely that he will get any kind of consideration come awards season, Hardy still gives one of the best performances of the year so far.
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