As he's driving home from work one day Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) stops at a traffic light. It turns green and he doesn't move. A cement truck honks at him. He pauses. He eventually adjusts his turn signal and heads off in the opposite direction. And so begins writer-director Steven Knight's Locke, a movie that takes place entirely within the confines of Ivan's car. While that might make the film, which opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, seem like a mere novelty, Hardy's performance and the sharp script make it a riveting experience.
As Ivan drives from the construction site where he works as a foreman to London where he has to take care of a personal problem, we slowly learn what made his change his mind when he was at the stoplight. The phone in his car doesn't stop ringing as he drives. His wife and kids wonder why he's not coming home to watch a soccer match. His boss wonders why he won't be on the job in the morning to pour the slab for a giant skyscraper. His co-worker wonders how he'll be able to oversee the cement work without Ivan.
All the while, Ivan remains fairly even keel, even as he curses his late father for being a deadbeat dad. He keeps telling himself that he can make things right but his boss wants to fires him over the phone and his wife threatens to leave him. Ivan continues to try to do things by the book. He tells his co-worker everything he needs to know to make the job run smoothly — he even makes a few calls to make sure the right roads are closed so the trucks can get to the site. He tells his wife that he'd like to "proceed to the next step" once they resolve their differences.
The film would seem to lend itself to some dramatic crash scene, but that's not how Knight keeps us interested. Rather, as Ivan drives, his car occasionally rattles as he goes over a bump. It's a nice metaphor for life. And it shows the extent to which the film employs subtlety in showing how one wrong move can make a person's life turn into a series of painstaking negotiations.