The Driving Seat
Many characters set off on a lonely road to an certain future in the movies, their arc being not the destination but the journey, etc, but the conceit of Steven Knight’s Locke is to literalise that journey.
Tom Hardy’s trip down the M6 is a snapshot of a life in transition, a man compelled to risk his job and his family to satisfy his conscience and be a better Dad to a bastard than his bastard absent Father was to him. It’s a one shot wonder; a celebration of close up that puts its lonely subject under intense and revealing pressure. Not very cinematic you may think, but there’s more to film than angles and spacial juxtaposing. Sometimes there’s just character, and Locke‘s achievement is that it manages to compress its drama into a single setting, a solitary face. There are other voices; fleeting, disembodied; but their function is to further etch out the man in the literal driving seat, testing his ability to stay in its figurative counterpart.
A well designed script, that frames the narrative over a two hour period and puts Hardy under intense time pressure, ensuring an almost unbroken flow of character to car phone communications, builds the titular foreman into a fully rounded human being in under ninety minutes. This, it should be noted, is usually the redundant part of the movie narrative, the part that’s cut as a character travels between two scenes, but here it’s everything and we learn a great deal about the man and the life he’s uncertainly driving away from. We learn of his martial indiscretion, his professional reputation, the commitment to the family he’s betrayed, his visceral, maddening hatred for his dead Dad and his tragedy – a plain speaking foreman, patriotic, football loving, who’s risked alienating his family for a lonely, middle class woman he doesn’t love, has nothing in common with, who’s already berating him for not sharing her interests, despite there being no relationship to speak of, just an unplanned baby.
This intimate and compelling piece, never veering from the confines of Locke’s BMW, has been sold by twitchy marketeers as a thriller but it’s no such thing. Locke is a great piece of drama, plain and simple, anchored by Tom Hardy’s complete and penetrating performance in the title role. A one shot experiment, close up on close up, wouldn’t be every actor’s first choice, but Hardy rises to the challenge with absolute commitment. He manages to run the full gamut of emotions while remaining as controlled as the mellifluous Welsh brogue he adopts for the character. He holds the screen.
Steven Knight’s direction is as subtle and economic as his screenplay. We knew that great films needn’t be propelled by action or incident; sometimes the incidental’s plenty; but movies like Locke are a fine and welcome reminder.