All of Locke takes place inside a BMW that Ivan (Tom Hardy) is racing to … well, no fair telling, but let’s just say he needs to be at a certain place in London by a specific time. But the timing couldn’t be worse for Ivan: He’s a construction director who is overseeing a massive project that is ready to break ground in a few hours, but he’s not going to be able to be there for the first concrete pour. His family is disappointed he’s not going to be home in time to watch a championship soccer match with them as they had planned. And periodically, as he speeds along on the highway, he rants to his dead father as if he were sitting in the back seat, lambasting him for being a poor dad.
Ivan speaks to various actual people — his wife, his sons, his co-workers, the person awaiting him at his destination — via hands-free cellphone in his car. Bit by bit, you come to understand his situation and why he’s willing to risk everything (his job, his marriage, his career) to fulfill his mission. Writer-director Steven Knight, who previously wrote Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, does his best to avoid visual claustrophobia by shooting Hardy from every conceivable angle: Inside the car, outside, from the front, from the back, first-person perspective, bird’s-eye view, everything. But Locke is still a movie in which a conversation about the importance of properly built foundations eats up a third of the running time and in which the only protagonist is potentially ruining his life by a situation that doesn’t make much sense.
Locke is best approached as a showcase for Hardy, a physical, vibrant actor who manages to hold the screen even from behind the wheel of a car for the duration of the film. But as intriguing as Hardy is to watch, the picture can’t overcome its stunt vibe. Why does Ivan have a cold? So Hardy can occasionally blow his nose and chug cold medicine, to give the actor some business to do with his hands. The movie should build in tension as it unfolds (think of Ryan Reynolds’ increasingly unbearable predicament in Buried, another, far superior, tight-space thriller) but instead you end up wishing a cop would pull Ivan over for a ticket or he would pick up a hitchhiker or have an accident or even stop at a tollbooth. Even a roadblock delay would have been welcome — anything to keep this long, ultimately pointless drive from feeling so endless.