Films set in cars? I can think of a few – Michael Mann’s Collateral Damage and Fred Schepisi’s Last Orders are the first to spring to mind – but all such narratives often rely on breaking up the journey with flashbacks, cutaways, pit stops and similar devices.
Writer and director Stephen Knight (creator of the BBC’s Peaky Blinders and writer of Stephen Frears’s Dirty Pretty Things) has crafted a film that is pure in form and dogged in its execution – to quote the film’s protagonist, he’s “made a plan and stuck to it".
The result is a mesmerising, hypnotic 85 minute night-drive that benefits from having a three-pronged narrative engine, which together represents the protagonist’s entire life hanging in the balance.
We find Ivan Locke (Hardy) downing tools on a construction site in the UK as he is about to embark on a long drive to the nation’s capital.
Along the way he mediates on the phone between work colleagues and increasingly distressed family members.
It transpires that Locke won’t be coming home to watch the football game with his wife and sons that night, nor will he be able to oversee a crucial phase in the construction of a building he’s been working on.
He’s driving to London to be with a woman he barely knows: one who is about to give birth to his child.
Doing a lot with a little
Although the form of the film is difficult to argue for as ‘cinematic’, much is made of the limited setting; the cinematography is perfectly functional, nothing is overtly showy and at the same time the photography manages to find a visual elegance within the restraint.
To say we spend the entirety of the film watching one man driving a car along a stretch of British motorway and never once become bored is testament to the magnetic presence of actor Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception) and Knight’s own cleverly structured script.
Each phone call delivers the next piece of the narrative puzzle, getting us to invest emotionally in each strand before moving onto the next one.
We’re left hanging at the end of every call, uncertain of whether Locke will lose his job; whether his wife, waiting at home as the match plays out, will forgive him for his dalliance; or if he can make it in time to witness the arrival of a new life he has fathered, coming prematurely with various complications.
It’s primarily an emotional ride – one that is further deepened by the revelation that Locke is haunted by the spectre of his father.
It transpires he has been largely absent from Locke’s life and apparently failed him in many ways.
But his influence continues, despite his death, and has motivated this very drive as Locke is determined to do the right thing and escape his father’s shadow.
Shallow June’s soulful journey
There’s an undeniable sense that this is more of an experiment for Knight, rather than a fully-fledged film project, but while not all the performances are up to Hardy’s standard (he bravely but inexplicably adopts a thick Welsh valleys accent here), Locke offers originality and depth at a time of year when such things tend to be in short supply.
Dir: Stephen Knight
UK drama, 2013, 85 mins
Tom Hardy, Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, Ben Daniels, Andrew Scott
Premiered June 5