Sydney Film Festival Review: Locke (UK, 2014)


John Donne once famously wrote that “a man is not an island”, referencing the many connections that seep into even the most insular of spaces and tug at certain sides of our human psyche even at times when we are physically alone. It’s a sentiment which rings entirely true in Locke, a truly fascinating minimal drama written and directed by Steven Knight.

Not only does this film demand the world of Tom Hardy – the only visible star of the Locke – but the process of creating it must have placed a tremendous amount of pressure on the cast and crew; you at least get the impression of such once you discover that it took only 8 days to shoot this film. The entire process was completed in a matter of months – Locke has been rolling in critical acclaim ever since.

Hardy portrays the role of Ivan Locke, a construction worker who “runs a tight ship” and approaches situations in a calm, meticulous manner, soothing people with his smooth Welsh accent (which Hardy absolutely nails); a real charming problem solver who lives or dies on the thought that he is in control. Throughout the film Hardy relies on masterful strokes of micro-expressions, telling blows of bubbling mania, and pitch perfect cadence to keep us engaged in his plight.

In a comment about excessive interconnection, Locke plays the role of a man who has to juggle several pertinent phone calls while he drives from one point to the other, simultaneously handling the many situations he is in through way of his car speakers. Locke must balance the needs of his work and a massive Chicago job, via conversations with two different co-workers; satiate the needs of a lonely woman (Bethan; voiced by Olivia Coleman) in labour, who he impregnated during a one-night stand and is on his way to visit; and check-in with his wife, Katrina (Ruth Wilson), and two sons, who are at home waiting for him with sausages and affection.
Three initially unrelated storylines which tug at the many facets of Locke’s personality and require him to approach each in a different manner. The job needs him to be calm and rational; Bethan’s seemingly desperate need for his love has Locke as a coldly aloof, yet reasonable man; and his family inspires guilt, regret, and a sense of sadness. As the film goes on, Locke goes from a man able to separate these sides of himself to an unbalanced, determined man with emotions bleeding through each other.

Unsurprisingly, this gives Hardy a rich palette of emotions to play around with, and watching him make complete use of facial expressions to convey a man slowly buckling under the weight of all that is happening outside his car, is both fascinating and terrifying.

There are some doses of unnecessary exposition as Hardy begins to become more frenzied and begins addressing an imagined version of the deceased father who once let him down. These monologues are initially welcome, fresh sequences which uncover Locke’s back story and contextualise just why he is so determined to be with Bethan as she gives birth to his child, but as the film rolls along, his sporadic snaps of insanity feel like filler material designed only to give Hardy more room to showcase his portfolio.

We don’t leave the car at all during the film, leaving us with Hardy throughout the entire 85 minute duration as he navigates some highly characterised voice acting from an excellent support cast. Thanks to some great voice acting, you get a real sense of the film’s characters, like the aloof co-worker Donal (Andrew Scott) who sparks much of the film’s genuinely hilarious moments, or the highly stressed Gareth (Ben Daniels). The dynamics between Locke and the several voices he interacts with are effectively fleshed out through on-again-off-again story arcs. Tension comes with each hang-up as we are left waiting for a particular situation to arise again, as they each progressively become more intense.

Watching Hardy attempt to remain calm while Locke is about to burst with inner-turmoil is part and parcel to the film’s success. This is an intensive study of one actor’s proficiency in portraying a man slowly unhinged as he loses control of everything but the direction and speed of his vehicle. Only resolve is able to tame Locke and allow him to approach situations in his cool, calm demeanor, but by the end of the film he is irrevocably changed by the events which occur outside of his minimal setting; disturbed by the disruption to the control he holds so dearly.

Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos are creative in dictating the way Locke was shot. Angles swing constantly around Hardy as he flows in and out of translucency, often becoming a ghost-life figure as the city and traffic lights zip by him on the outside of his car. The plethora of bright lights flashing by on the windowshield give excellent production value to the film, allowing shots to take on a more art-based look as the visuals remain stunning and interesting throughout. Though, there are times when the angle changes a bit too much, distracting from Hardy’s masterful performance.

Such a simple, unassuming idea could have easily translated into disaster, but Tom Hardy’s penchant for intensely intimate, theatrical performances has led to a true breakthrough role for the 36 year old actor. Hardy breathes significant life into Steven Knight’s simple script, bouncing off a superb support cast and spinning within a very well-shot car ride to give us a terrifyingly close, mesmerising look at what happens when the world drifts out of reach for a control freak.


Locke is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival. The next and final screening is taking place today (Monday 9th June) at 12:40pm at the State Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets click HERE


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.