One evening, construction foreman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) leaves his building site, gets in the car and starts driving. As he hits the motorway, he fields anxious phone calls from his wife (Ruth Wilson) and kids, waiting at home to watch the football with him; his boss (Ben Daniels), who’s nervous about the huge concrete pour scheduled for the morning; and his colleague Donal (Andrew Scott), whom he asks to oversee the operation in his absence.
For the first time in his life, he’s going to let them all down. Why? “I have no choice,” he says. And this is not a man given to deviating from the plan.
And that, give or take, is your lot in writer/director Steven Knight’s (Hummingbird) extraordinary real-time one-man drama. Voices blur in and out, headlights strafe the windscreen, and details of Locke’s life accumulate, but we never leave the car and barely leave Hardy’s face.
It’s a bold move, one that’s only possible because of the depth of Knight’s script (he also wrote Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things and Peaky Blinders), and the strength of Hardy’s performance, perhaps his best yet.
As a man, Locke is far from glamorous: he has a cold, he wears a cardie and he’s often unfeasibly pedantic. But he exists in three dimensions, and there’s something about his determination that starts to seem heroic as the night wears on (in this he brings to mind David Cronenberg’s gasman in 1998’s Last Night, calling to thank each and every customer even as the world ends).
Locke’s an unexceptional man, but a solid one – so much so his wife complains about him leaving little pieces of concrete behind him wherever he goes. Hardy fills the role – and the screen – with ease, but there’s only a few moments where he really lets rip, playing out some ferocious father issues in the rear-view mirror (no accident there).
In fact, he’s just as impressive when he’s calm, patiently trying to keep his life on track even as everything starts to veer off-map.
Most dramas are about people forced into taking decisive action by their circumstances, but few have the courage to strip away so much of the bullshit. After 85 minutes you’ll have witnessed one man’s whole world shift its foundations while he – and you – were sitting still.
As engrossing as any thriller, this quietly shattering character study, like Locke himself, achieves exactly what it sets out to, with the minimum of fuss.