Only one character appears on screen for virtually the entire film, behind the wheel of a car, driving to London from somewhere in the north. The reviewer on the Roger Ebert website calls it a “stunt” and compares it with Georges Perec’s novel, La Disparation, which was written without using the letter “e”. It’s a thoughtless comparison.
First of all, in the first 30 seconds or so of Locke, we see Ivan Locke outside his car, preparing for his journey. That would be as if in the first three or four pages of Perec’s book “e”’s did appear. No – the limitations set by Knight are not a stunt. The isolation of Ivan Locke, while he communicates with the film’s other characters through his car’s speaker phone, has a significance in a film crammed with significance; Perec’s eschewing of “e” is simply an Oulipoan literary exercise.
I won’t discuss the plot, but the film is a profound examination of what are our moral and ethical imperatives when put to a supremely difficult test. It reminds me, in that way, of the Iranian film, A Separation, another magnificent movie dealing with human responsibility. But A Separation is an ensemble piece in which the characters’ contrasting reactions to complicated situations provide the framework for the moral and ethical conundrums of the film. The same conundrums are faced by a single protagonist in Locke. When the film is over, you have no doubt about the heroism of Ivan Locke; what is not clear is where he was right and where he went wrong.
One unusual facet of Locke is the importance accorded to the responsibilities Locke has to his job, to his employer and to his colleagues at work. Offhand, I can’t think of another film in which this issue plays such a marked role.
I do have one quibble with Locke. The decision made by Locke, the adamantine adherence to which places him in the excruciating predicaments that are the movie’s plot, is based on a traumatic family relationship in the past. Okay. But a full, soliloquized, exposition of it is unnecessary and detracts from the drama of Locke’s present quandaries – just a glancing mention would have been enough.
All the reviewers agree that Locke is a tour de force for its actor, Tom Hardy. Yes. It should (but probably won’t) earn him a Academy Award.