*** (out of four)
In the latest issue of Esquire, the magazine identified Tom Hardy as the greatest actor of his generation. That may be a stretch—the guy’s only five months younger than Michael Fassbender.
Hardy (“The Dark Knight Rises,” “Lawless”), however, is always very good. “Locke” needs him to be: The entire movie takes place inside Ivan Locke’s (Hardy) car as he attempts to address numerous, major threads of his life via speaker phone during a late-night drive. Locke has learned that a woman he barely knows, whom he slept with on a night slicked with wine and loneliness, has gone into labor two months early. The timing couldn’t be worse—he hasn’t yet told his wife and two sons about the pregnancy, and tomorrow he’s overseeing a giant construction project. But Locke wants distance from a legacy of irresponsible men and won’t sit idly by as his child enters the world, biggest day of his professional life be damned.
Aside from the spectrum of angry and sad voices on the phone, “Locke” is all Hardy’s face and fluctuating tone. This is not the buff intimidator of “Warrior” or “Bronson;” bearded and dressed in a sweater over a collared shirt, this regretful man looks eerily like a British Jason Bateman. Nearly imperceptible exasperation flickers across his features, contained before he can hang up and explode in private. Throughout “Locke” the title character also frequently speaks to his late father, whom he imagines sitting in the backseat. Hardy makes Locke’s anger convincing, though these moments feel like writer-director Steven Knight (the lousy Jason Statham vehicle “Redemption”) too-neatly rounding off the story. And there’s a certain limitation put on a film, no matter how compelling its lead performance, that hinges on the stunt of a single vehicular location and phone-based conversation.
Yet “Locke,” which might have been called “Traffic” if the title weren’t already claimed, effectively revolves around questionable intentions from a man whose best efforts to “straighten” the family name may do just the opposite. It’s clunky for Knight to draw a line between Locke’s personal and professional lives, both evidence that the world can come crashing down thanks to one little mistake. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong about how easy it is to light a match and ignite a forest.
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