With over a century of filmmaking finding many films that only have one actor on screen is a rarity. It’s also a daunting task for a single actor to basically shoulder the entire film on their own shoulders no matter the experience they have. There’s only a handful of actors that tackle going solo for a film like Robert Redford in “All Is Lost”, Philip Baker Hall in “Secret Honor”, and Ryan Reynolds in “Buried”. All these films are carried by one actor and are minimalist efforts. They are all also terrific movies and now Tom Hardy will join the very small list of actors that carried an entire film by themselves.
Locke follows Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, making phone calls that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his careful cultivated existence in one drive to the hospital. Usually if you can literally summarize everything that occurs in a film with a single sentence there’s usually not a whole lot to dissect. That isn’t the case with Locke taking place in real time and primarily consisting of dialogue to tell its story. Characterization and plot development all occurs through conversations on the phone each of which flow naturally. Each of the conversations plays around several explored ideas like being defined by your actions, the impact of fatherhood, escapism within your job, and many other ideas that serves it as a equally layered character study. The more time you spent with Lock the more you begin to doubt his good nature and begin to see a different meaning behind his words and motives. Locke is a very layered character whose words and action in certain situations will paint him in various shades. Being the only visible character in the film he’s very defined with his interactions with supporting characters telling us allot of his relationship with them. On paper the plot is basically going from point A to point B without detours of any kind, yet a lone developed character is enough to carry the film.
On a the cinematography side of things the film is visually repetitive. The camera never stays at one angle for very long. It mixes extreme close-ups with medium shots, looks at Locke from his side mirrors, and then from his rearview mirror. Headlights and the streetlights reflect on his windshield, his windows and the shine of his car itself. Occasionally, the camera switches to a first-person view; we see what Locke sees. Repeating the same exterior shots of traffic or Locke car, not-too-functional shots of reflections of traffic lights in windshields, faded car lights, and interior shots just being different variation on Tom Hardy basically driving. While the cinematography is nothing impressive or engaging Tom Hardy is a true tour de force in his performance. Stuck behind the wheel of the car the entire time, there’s very little for Hardy to do, which is both the point and what makes his performance so remarkable. Physically he can do nothing but Hardy manages to play a multitude of roles while chatting on the phone. One minute, he’s the all-business deal breaker; the next, an attentive father, assuring his son he’ll be home in the morning. After his son goes back to the game, and his colleague does his bidding, and playing the role of insubordinate employee. Playing up various aspects of the character personality through by effortlessly changing his mannerism at a moment notice.
Locke is not an interesting movie to look at with repetitive shot compositions, but it’s an intriguing experiment that works for Tom Hardy to display some strong acting in a difficult role and challenges Steven Knight as a storyteller. It’s a rare film relying primarily on a single actor to be on screen containing the usual great story and a great performance by it lone star even if visually there’s not much to latch on to.