Terse 'Locke' shows how a life crumbles in real time

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Make one little error in pouring the concrete and the whole building can come crashing down.

The same holds true for a world when a husband, father of two sons and prized employee makes a mistake and a crack widens into a fissure and then chasm. It threatens to leave Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) marooned from his ordinary, cherished existence.


Starring: Tom Hardy.

Rating: R for language throughout.

That is at the heart of “Locke,” a movie that relies on Mr. Hardy the way “All Is Lost” turned on Robert Redford’s doomed sailor. Mr. Hardy has no sharks or sinking boat to contend with, just a sinking feeling and lots of people to talk to, by phone, as he drives alone from Birmingham to London, England.

Although Locke’s hands-free calls might be the very definition of distracted driving — he’s juggling one crisis that could end his marriage and another that might leave him unemployed — but he multitasks as he stays glued to the driver’s seat of his BMW.

“Locke” is the movie version of a one-man play, with all other voices coming from off-stage or over the phone, as in this case. The camera stays on Mr. Hardy, who looks and speaks nothing like the other characters he’s played, from the MMA fighter in “Warrior” and masked Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” to a bootlegger in the Prohibition-era “Lawless.”

Here, the London-born performer is bearded and sounds like Anthony Hopkins as he speaks with a soft Welsh accent. That reportedly was Mr. Hardy’s idea since it “doesn’t have the swagger of a lot of urban accents.”

Locke is driving away from supervising the biggest concrete pour in Europe, outside a military or nuclear installation. It’s not just a matter of allowing the churning mix to slide into the forms; there are roads to close, mixtures and rebar to double-check, officials to try to reach after hours, weather to worry about.

Concrete is symbolic in all sorts of ways, from how solid it is to how traces of it leave visible footprints at the end of the day.

A personal problem puts him in the car and leads to probably the most difficult call of his life. “I have behaved not at all like myself,” he acknowledges. He falls back on his strength as a problem solver, telling one aggrieved party, “I want to talk about a practical next step,” but this may be too thorny to fix.

“Locke,” written and directed by Steven Knight (whose screenplays include “Eastern Promises,” “Amazing Grace” and “Dirty Pretty Things”), is a terse 85 minutes but remarkably effective in painting a portrait of Ivan as employee, boss, father, husband and son.

Almost all of the story is set inside Ivan’s car with the camera on Mr. Hardy’s face virtually all of the time; occasionally it’s shown behind layers of lights from nearby traffic or is reflected in the mirrors. Emotions and sometimes tears quietly wash over it; he never mugs, even when angrily addressing an absent parent.

The story is told in real time; in less than an hour and a half, the support systems on a life give way and it threatens to collapse. But the bedrock of an acting career remains sturdier than ever.

Opens today at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront.

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