I have always had a massive soft spot for bottle films. There is no greater showcase for an actor’s talent then to completely isolate them, and see if they are able to carry our attention for 90 plus minutes. Brilliant examples of the genre such as ‘Buried’ and ‘127 Hours’ have predominately solidified the talents of Ryan Reynolds, and James Franco, their respective leading men. Does the same carry through for Tom Hardy?
We begin by finding concrete worker Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) climbing into his car, and driving off into the night. As he does, phone calls start rolling in, one more aggressive than the next. It becomes apparent very fast that this is not a typical sunday night drive, but a decent into a personal and professional hell from which there is no turning back.
Conceptually, this is one of the most fascinating films I’ve ever seen. This is not in any way a typical bottle film. There is no bomb under the car that will explode if Locke stops, or any other type of life threatening ticking clock. Quite the contrary, It’s a simple, tragic, deeply relatable story about just how far down under simple human urges and flaws can take someone. The screenplay by Writer/Director Steven Knight is constantly juggling keeping the stakes high, and the emotions grounded, and it does a wonderful job. One of the great joys of this film is simply discovering exactly what Locke has done, the story keeps a tight, and yet deliberate pace as it dolls out more and more sins that this man has committed. The dialogue is wonderfully written, and with the exception of one aspect of the story, never feels overtly stagey or indulgent. There are moments of great passive aggression, explosive anger, and just when things feel too hostile, little bits of humor.
Tom Hardy has been one of the most wholly underrated actors in the industry for years. Relishing in the opportunity to own the spotlight, he delivers his most layered, and complex performance to date. He sensationally juggles a gamut of different emotions, and makes it look effortless. Ivan is not a bad man, just one who has made some awful decisions. In fact, he is a reasonable, logical person in spite of everything, and it is the highly emotional reactions of his peers that stress him out, making his precarious situation all the more difficult. This dichotomy is fascinating to watch be preformed. I doubt I will see a finer piece of acting this year. I would also be remiss if I didn’t praise the vocal performances of the supporting cast including Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, and Ben Daniels. They manage to pull out some pretty impressive characterization despite never being seen, something other bottle films have failed at (looking at you Buried).
While this is mostly a screenwriters and actors piece, the directing is also very strong. Stephen Knight does do a nice job of keeping a film that is essentially 7 different alternating shots highly interesting. The color palate is gorgeous, the rich black night coupled with the light of the highway giving the film a heavily hypnotic feeling. It really feels like we are in the back seat with Ivan.
There are a couple issues here. The first, most major issue involves a subplot involving Locke occasionally taking breaks from his phone calls to jeer at his dead father, who he is imagining in the back-seat. The dialogue in these segments feels heavily play like, and does not mesh at all with the grounded, subtle sensibility of the rest of the film. Thematically, they make sense, but they could have definitely been handled better. The second, is just a slight issue with length. While Locke is already a merciful 85 minutes, it still feels long. Sometimes, this aids in putting us in Locke’s agitated, tired state, other times, it leaves us begging for a quick 7/11 pit stop just so we can get a breath of fresh air.
Overall, this is one of the best pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen all year. It’s especially refreshing in the summer, when everything is so big, to watch something so simple, and yet so engrossing. If anyone gives a better performance this year then Tom Hardy in this, you can color me deeply surprised. Highly Recommended.