When Locke first premiered in American theaters earlier this year, I have to admit that I didn’t pay much attention to it. On the one hand, I was intrigued by the fact that the entire film was apparently just Tom Hardy driving around in a car and taking hands-free phone calls from people. Tom Hardy, after all, is one of my favorite actors and I’ve always felt that he deserves to be known for a lot more than just being the bad guy in The Dark Knight Rises. At the same time, a lot of the reviews made it sound as if Locke was a thriller in the style of Getaway or Need For Speed and I’ve reached the point where I’m only interested in car chases if they involve Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
So, I didn’t really pay much attention to Locke and I didn’t think that I would regret my decision to not see the film. However, a few months later, the Los Angeles Film Critics named Tom Hardy as their choice for best actor of the year for his performance in Locke. And then, so did the Toronto Film Critics. In Houston, Indiana, San Diego, Detroit, and St. Louis, Tom Hardy’s performance was acknowledged as being worthy of consideration.
And I thought to myself, “Well, I guess I better see Locke…” And, earlier today, I finally got a chance to do just that.
My first two immediate reactions:
1) All of those critics who made Locke sound like the Getaway owe me (and probably a lot of other people) an apology. Locke may have been advertised as being a thriller but it’s actually a very moody character study. Despite the fact that he has a name that feels appropriate for an action movie, Ivan Locke is not a criminal, a cop, or a superspy. Instead, he’s a rather ordinary man whose perfectly structured life falls apart over the course of one very long drive. And, though Locke does spend the entire film driving his car and staring out at the road while either taking phone calls or delivering a bitter monologue to the estranged father that he imagines is sitting in the back seat, there’s not a single car chase to be found in Locke. This is not an action film. The only thing chasing Locke are his regrets, his obligations, and one mistake that he’s determined to “make right.”
2) Tom Hardy is a great actor. He is literally the only character to appear on screen and it’s up to him to carry the entire film. He manages to do just that, giving a performance that will probably be imitated in acting classes around the world for at least the next ten years or so. Depending on who is calling him on the phone, Locke can be charming, forceful, caring, narcissistic, and even a little bit desperate. However, he’s always in control. It’s only when Locke is off the phone and he’s alone with his thoughts and his imaginary father that Locke allows his anger to come through. It’s been said that the key to great acting is to be found in the eyes and Hardy’s eyes are on fire all through Locke. It’s really a great performance.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Locke is a great film. It’s a good film. Hardy gives too masterful of a performance for the film to be anything other than good. But at the same time, Locke ultimately feels like an experiment that doesn’t quite work. You can admire the film’s attempt to tell a compelling story without leaving the confines of Locke’s car and still admit that the film doesn’t quite pull it off.
But, that said, Locke is worth seeing for Tom Hardy’s performance. Tom Hardy probably won’t receive his first Oscar nomination for Locke but his performance is brilliant nonetheless.