A mundane yet compelling drama immortalises the M6 in a 85 minute film-drive with Tom Hardy.
The short and spoiler free version:
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Overall: A thriller that both is and isn’t what you expect, an interesting diversion from the usual style of films and a personal drama with a sympathetic protagonist easy to become invested in.
Best for: Those who enjoy homely well-realised characters and realistic(ish) drama with nicely tuned small-world tension and humor.
Less so for: Those hoping for action film tropes, life-or-death thrills and/or a car chase.
Summary: Ivan Locke, construction manager and family man, receives a phone call on a crucial night of his career that causes him to quite literally take a turn down a different road, with all the consequences that brings.
The whole film, by which I mean 99%, is set in the car, which becomes the BMW Of Destiny during the 85 minutes you watch Ivan in it. Visually, therefore, it was not so absorbing that I didn’t occasionally glance at my film buddy to check their reaction instead. But the acting was ultimately far more rewarding to watch; the small expressions play across Tom Hardy’s face in a frequently painfully relateable way. The use of assorted camera angles helped, but still only two angles here really matter – Ivan Locke’s expressions and the car display showing incoming and outgoing calls. It’s a film that makes me want to watch Buried for comparison, but that’s going to have to wait for at least the duration of this review. The homely intimate feel was enhanced by the warm coloured lighting of the motorway inside the car, and Locke’s comfy jumper – visual clues that perhaps started to hint that this wasn’t your usual shiny metal thriller.
Locke is a very homely character, and everything about the details of his job as construction professional (which he is passionate about, especially regarding concrete), to his younger work colleague Donal and his boss Gareth from which most of the humour comes, to the crux of the drama involving the two women in his life, Katrina and Bethan, feels realistic and wonderfully fleshed out. Bethan (Olivia Colman), which we take the perfect amount of time to find out, is his one-time mistress from a slightly drunk work-do night and is now in labour with his child. She’s gone into labour earlier than was expected, and now he is on his way to see her, feeling strongly that this is the right thing to do, no matter the consequences.
And the consequences do come. Naturally Katrina (Ruth Wilson), his wife, does not take well to being told the reasons that he’s not coming home that night. Through a series of emotional calls home, some of which are answered by one of his sons as she cries and otherwise struggles with her feelings in the bathroom, we tensely follow her reactions come to their conclusion. There is no doubt that her reactions are the sort to provoke conversation post-movie. Whilst Locke’s largely pragmatic approach to his past mistake probably doesn’t help, it may be seen as more understandable than her dramatic rejection of him, especially in their final conversation where the assumption appears to be that she won’t let him come home. She declares decisively that there is a world of difference between once and never. The film, fortunately or unfortunately, does not let us know whether or not, or how, they work it out afterwards. I will simply say that her bad reaction was obviously as essential to the plot even as much as it felt geniune and moving, and provoking a thoughtful response from its watchers can only be counted as a success for the film.
Donal is a very loveable character voiced by Andrew Scott, and as the man forming Ivan’s hands and feet back at the work base I felt myself very much routing for him alongside Ivan (like when he has to leave his post to run and catch some helping hands) as much as sharing Ivan’s frustrations when we hear he’s been drinking on the job. It is shown subtly and pleasantly how Donal is clearly Locke’s subordinate, and yet we can easily see how Locke’s opinion of him as a ‘good man’ is justified, and his trust in him proves well placed. Whilst Gareth, their mutual boss and charmingly titled ‘Bastard’ on Locke’s call screen, doesn’t have much in terms of call time, his contributions are hilarious and add another amusing layer of dynamics to Locke’s work life.
Kudos to writer and director Steven Knight, then. If there is any area where the film is weaker it would probably be in Locke’s conversations with his dead father. Whilst they do provide interesting background motivation for Ivan’s decision, they do feel slightly more excessive than the more subtle show-over-tell nature in the rest of the film, so I have mixed feelings for those scenes. The same goes for the ending of the film. Whilst I appreciate the neatness of the film ending with Locke in the car just as he has been for essentially the entirety of the film, for some reason I did feel that leaving this as the ending was slightly dissatisfying for me. Even an auditory ending of his arrival and a baby’s cry over a black screen might have helped me in this regard, I think. As he neared his destination at the end I felt like I had been left behind holding an assumptive conclusion whilst he made the final stretch, rather than enjoying the conclusion with him. Perhaps this is my personal taste.
Overall a very satisfying and interesting film that has definitely parked in a warm corner of my heart.