If I described this movie to you as a man driving home in his car, having conversations over the phone in real time, and that's virtually it for the premise, you'd be tempted to skip this one altogether. But if you do you'd be missing out on what turns out to be quite a feat in experimental filmmaking, and trust me, it's much more compelling than you'd think.
Tom Hardy stars in this film as Ivan Locke, a construction supervisor (or builder, as they call them in the U.K.) who makes a decision not to go home after work one night, and as he drives to his intended destination (which will conveniently take about 90 minutes) he must deal with and confront the various personal and professional consequences of this decision with all those who are immediately affected. This means he must juggle impending and varying phone calls with his boss, colleagues, wife, son and one other person who is the cause of Ivan's problems on this night, but whose role in the plot is so crucial that I can't spoil it for you here. We hear the voices over the phone as Ivan interacts with these people, although we never see them, and it's incredible how impactful it is just to hear them and piece together through the fragments of each ongoing conversation what their relationship is to Ivan and what crisis his decision has subsequently caused in their lives. The screenplay by writer-director Steven Knight is constructed in such a way that Ivan doesn't need to drift into any expository dialogue with these people- indeed, much of it sounds like possible improv and never anything less than their real and immediate emotions are conveyed at every moment.
Speaking of Steven Knight, the script might be tight as a drum, set to reveal certain pieces of Ivan's life at just the right moments, but as for direction in a film like this, you'd think there might be very minimal work for him to do, other than direct Tom Hardy's performance. But that hardly seems to need it, as the British character actor who's been making a splash these last few years in supporting parts (probably best known as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) once again gives a totally chameleon-like, fully realized turn as a man who we come to know first as a stranger and then as intimately as if he were our closest friend. This is a one-man show for an hour and a half, and Hardy gives it his all without once crossing over into showboating or gimmicky mannerisms. This is a guy who's driving home in his car, trying to take control of his life, determined to fix the mistakes he's made, and just through certain cadences of voice and subtle physical movements are we able to tell quickly just what kind of a man he is, and how he's used to and able to getting what he wants by dealing with and compartmentalizing the different facets of his inner circle, whether it's at home or at work. It's really quite a feat of acting here, and if there's any justice Hardy would be recognized for this performance at the end of the year (although I wouldn't count on it, given how small a release this movie was given in theaters).
As for the direction of the film aside from the performance (which is what carries the movie here), it is essentially a gimmick to see if filming what amounts to a one act, one man play can be done. Knight tries to move the camera to different angles outside the car, but it falls almost entirely on Hardy's shoulders to involve us in this man's small universe inside the car. Which I'm happy to say he does, completely. It's a small triumph of a movie in that way, and it will stick with you as you ponder the effect of getting to know a man through his conversations and monologues (a very stage-y affectation that Hardy pulls off just as well) in such a short period of time. It's the wonder of moviemaking on the smallest possible scale and the fact that it's actually done so well is a testament to the limits of our imagination.
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