The minimalist thriller “Locke” is a cinematic experiment that never feels like an experiment — in that it works both conceptually and as a drama.
The drama focuses on Ivan Locke (played by Tom Hardy), a construction foreman on the eve of the biggest job of his career — a concrete pour that’s billed as one of the largest ever tried in Europe.
But Ivan is driving away from that job site, 90 minutes to London, where a woman is giving birth to his child. The woman, Bethan, is not his wife, but a lonely woman he met seven months ago on a previous construction project.
On the drive, Ivan must juggle several conversations on his carphone. He must calm Bethan (voiced by Olivia Colman), scared and alone in a London hospital. He must inform his bosses that he won’t be overseeing the pour. He must hand off his work duties to his assistant, Donal (voiced by Andrew Scott), making sure he checks every little detail. And he must tell his wife, Katrina (voiced by Ruth Wilson), who is home with their sons, all unaware of Ivan’s infidelity.
Oh, and there’s one more conversation Ivan has in the car: one with his dead father, who he imagines is sitting in the back seat, mocking him. It’s those conversations — as Ivan confronts his father’s abandonment and refuses to do the same to Bethan’s child — that inform every call he makes.
Writer-director Steven Knight confines the action to Ivan’s BMW, creating a claustrophobic tension that should rivet the audience. With every conversation, every mile on the road, he leaves in doubt the future of Ivan’s marriage, the safety of the construction project and even whether Ivan will crash the car before reaching London.
But it’s Hardy who commands our attention on this trip. He has proven himself a chameleon onscreen: a tormented brawler in “Warrior,” an implacable villain in “The Dark Knight Rises,” a protective moonshiner in “Lawless.” Here, using little more than his face and voice, he fashions a fascinating character, driven by a sense of duty — trying to do right by his unborn child — and a determination to follow through, whatever the fallout.
As “Locke” began, I found myself wondering how Knight and Hardy would maintain this one-man performance piece. As it went on, those considerations gave way to a more primal one: What’s going to happen to this guy? That’s an indication of a movie working its magic.
A construction foreman drives to London, juggling several problems at once via his carphone, in this riveting minimalist thriller.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • R for language throughout
Running time • 85 minutes.