JANUARY 17, 2014 2:49 PM
There are worse places to spend 85 minutes than inside a car with Tom Hardy, even he ignores you the entire time to make calls on speakerphone. This lesson comes courtesy of Steven Knight's experimental Sundance entry Locke, during which Hardy does just that in real time without ever exiting his vehicle or speaking to another person face-to-face.
And despite those somewhat extreme constraints, the drama is compelling, genuinely moving, and suspenseful. It's a singular achievement for Knight, who also wrote the drama's measured script, and Hardy, who manages to propel the story forward even though his butt is planted in the same position for an hour and a half.
The film opens on Hardy, a construction manager named Ivan Locke, as he steps into his BMW S.U.V. and leaves a work site. During each phone call Locke makes, the audience slowly discovers more about Hardy and his late-night excursion via trickles of exposition. Knight carefully unfurls more stakes about why Hardy's car ride is so urgent, why his family is so disappointed in him, and why the timing of his trip is so damning for his construction company.
As the pressure on Hardy's character mounts, the actor never resorts to showing his stress by going Nic Cage on us--raising his voice, banging on a steering wheel, or flipping off speeding passersby. Instead, he speaks in a Welsh accent so lilting and soothing that we would personally request it for our iOS if we lived in a future Her-type universe that allowed us to make these kinds of decisions. Even though he maintains composure (for the most part), and his position at the wheel for the entirety of the movie, Hardy, with Knight's direction, is able to summon legitimate suspense thanks to the script's snaking personal revelations, which are masterfully laid out.