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‘Locke’: Brilliant work behind the wheel by Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy 'Locke.' | A24 Films

Tom Hardy in "Locke." | A24 Films

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‘LOCKE’ ★★★★

Ivan Locke Tom Hardy

Katrina Ruth Wilson

Bethan Olivia Colman

Donal Andrew Scott

A24 presents a film written and directed by Steven Knight. Running time: 85 minutes. Rated R (for language throughout). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: June 3, 2014 6:13AM

Ivan Locke has a very specific way of speaking.

He rarely raises his voice, even when he has to interrupt someone. He repeats himself in the same measured tones, even when the person on the other end of the line is freaking out or screaming at him or pleading with him to reconsider.

This is the decision I’ve made, Ivan says, as he continues to drive to his destination. The traffic is OK, so I’ll be there soon. The traffic is OK.

You know the old bromide about how some actors are so magnificent, we would watch them read the phone book? In writer-director Steven Knight’s mesmerizing jewel of film titled “Locke,” Tom Hardy is so brilliant we readily watch him drive a car and talk on the hands-free phone for virtually the entirety of the film — and it’s one of the more effortlessly intense and fascinating performances I’ve seen any actor give in recent memory. You watch this drama unfold and you think: Why isn’t this man one of our biggest movie stars?

We start with nighttime shots of a huge construction site, which we later learn is the site of a 55-story building that will be the largest concrete pour in Europe outside of nuclear power facilities and government projects. It is an enormous project requiring a near-perfect foundation. Tens of millions of dollars are at stake. If the pour is just slightly off, somewhere down the timeline that building will literally start to crack and fall apart.

Ivan Locke (Hardy), the steadiest construction foreman in the business, is leaving for the night. He gets behind the wheel of his BMW SUV and merges onto a motorway that will take him from Birmingham to London.

That Ivan has even decided to embark on this trip means he’s most likely going to lose everything that ever mattered to him.

For the remainder of the film, we stay with Locke in that car. He has conveniently perfect Bluetooth reception, meaning he can make (and receive) more than a dozen calls while methodically making his way to London. (The traffic is OK, so I’ll be there soon. The traffic is OK.)

One of Locke’s contacts is listed as “Bastard.” That would be Locke’s boss, who loses his s--- when Locke informs him the big pour will have to commence tomorrow without Locke overseeing it in person. Another contact is Bethan, who is in panic mode in a London hospital, desperate for Locke to arrive.

Then there’s Donal, the underling who flies into an immediate panic when Locke says Donal is now in charge.

Most important of all is Katrina, Locke’s wife of some 15 years. She’s cooking dinner in preparation for Locke to come home and watch an important football match with their two boys — and when he tells her he’s not coming home tonight and he tells her why he’s not coming home, Katrina’s entire world is shattered.

All this time, we’re looking at Locke. There are no cutaway shots to the people on the other end of the line. The camera moves outside the car for a few shots between phone calls, and there’s a score that augments the mood of the moment without being intrusive — but mostly it’s just Locke’s bearded face as he juggles taking incoming calls between the list of calls he needs to make.

It’s a tribute to the voice skills of the supporting cast members (and to Knight’s script) that we start envisioning what everyone looks like, and how their lives have proceeded. Olivia Colman is the sad and lonely Bethan in that London hospital; Ruth Wilson is Locke’s wife Katrina; Andrew Scott is the ale-swilling Donal, who provides some welcome comic relief. Even a voice message left by Locke’s oldest son while Locke is busy tending to job-related fires is perfectly executed.

“Locke” is actually a beautiful film to watch, as the headlights seem animated in the rain-filtered colors of the night while a man drives and drives, knowing each call he makes and/or takes only further cements (so to speak) his fate. A man everyone could rely on, a man devoted to family and friends, a man who excelled at his job and walked the righteous path — that man had one moment of weakness, and rather than try to run away from responsibility like his father did, this man is doing what he believes to be the right thing.

Hardy’s performance is so good, from the quick flickers in his eyes to the intermittent moments of rage and frustration he allows himself, to that unique but never overly attention-seeking way of delivering the simplest of lines, that we feel we know exactly the sort of man Ivan Locke has been before this night, and exactly the sort of life he’ll have after this night.

The traffic is OK, so he’ll be there soon. The traffic is OK.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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