Though I was intrigued by its premise even before it appeared in theaters, I only just this weekend got around to watching Locke starring Tom Hardy, now out on DVD. You might think that an 80-minute movie featuring only one actor, who spends the entire film in his car driving and talking on a hands-free phone, would be at best a gimmicky curiosity and at worst a nap-inducing bore. You would be wrong. Locke is a riveting and affecting tale of a man risking everything to do the right thing.
Hardy, last seen as Bane, Batman’s Darth Vader-y nemesis in The Dark Knight Rises, plays Ivan Locke, a Welsh Everyman in charge of laying the concrete foundation for one of the biggest construction projects in Europe. The film opens on Ivan climbing into his car at the end of a work day prior to the early morning pouring of the concrete. He does not exit the car for the duration of the movie. At the first intersection, he makes a decision to turn right instead of left, and that commitment sets the wheels of this tense drama in motion, if you’ll pardon the pun.
As the perfectly-paced film unfolds, we learn that the married Ivan is on his way to be with a woman named Bethan who is in a London hospital an hour and a half away, prematurely having his child – the product of their one-night stand together. The lonely older woman, with no one else in her life, had been his assistant on a London project seven months earlier, and after celebrating the project’s completion with too much wine, Ivan was unfaithful for the first time in his fifteen-year marriage. He regretted it but thought it was in the past – until he learned of the pregnancy.
Along the 80-minute drive, Ivan has to juggle numerous impending catastrophes: potentially disastrous problems at the work site that could scuttle the $100 million project; complications with the pregnancy; and worst of all, explaining to his wife why he won’t be home that night, and then handling the emotional fallout from that revelation.
Throughout it all, he clings steadfastly to his decision to be there for the birth, though it may cost him his job, his marriage, and his home. But why risk all that, why cause all that emotional turmoil for his wife and two young boys? After all, he has no emotional attachment to Bethan, and keeping the child was her choice. Why not leave her to deal with it, and go home to his oblivious, loving family and his comfortable life?
He doesn’t take that easy way out because, as we discover, he refuses to become the weak loser that his own dad was, a drunk addict who wasn’t there for Ivan’s birth and who disappeared until Ivan was a grown man. “That bastard wasn’t around for me and didn’t even give me a f**king name,” Ivan says to himself in the car. “I will give the baby my name and it will see my face. It will know and it won’t spend its life thinking that nobody…” The thought trails off.
It’s clear that the wound from his father’s absence still festers, and Ivan refuses to pass that pain on to this new innocent child. “Unlike you,” he addresses his father’s imagined presence, “I will drive straight to the place I should be, and I will be there to take care of my f**kup.”
When his boss screams at him on the phone, asking why he’s abandoning this critical job in the morning just to comfort some woman who is not even his wife, Locke replies:
Because the baby was caused by me. I have not behaved in the right way with this woman at all. But now I am going to do the right thing… I know how it feels to be coming out into the world like this. There is someone being brought into the world and it’s my fault. So I have to fix it.
Ivan is a rational man with a steely determination to escape his father’s legacy and be the master of his own fate, to take life into his own hands and “do what needs to be done,” regardless of how uncomfortable the consequences. “No matter what the situation is, you can make it good,” he asserts. “You don’t just drive away from it.”
In the end, the consequences are harsh. We don’t know how or even if the damage can be repaired (though the film ends on a hopeful note), and writer-director Steven Knight asks in the DVD commentary, “Was his choice worth it? It’s up to the viewer to decide.” This viewer believes Ivan Locke made the right choice. This is not to absolve him of his infidelity, only to respect him for owning up to that mistake, for being responsible for the new life he brought into the world, and for not taking the easy way out. That’s what a man does.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 9/4/14)