A Lesson About Life From Concrete, Phone Calls, Time, and One Man’s Drive

Director: STEVEN KNIGHT/2014

When your job is overseeing the pouring of concrete, it is very important to get the mixture right.  The foundation that is laid must not be compromised and it must have the integrity to support the structure that is to be built upon it.  Otherwise, within time, cracks will begin to appear and will eventually threaten to destroy the entire structure.  This is one of the things that Ivan Locke, played brilliantly by Tom Hardy (Inception, Bronson, The Dark Knight Rises), shares via a phone call to his co-worker Donal (voiced by Andrew Scott from Saving Private Ryan).  It is this lesson that serves as the backdrop for all we are going to see in the movie Locke.

The entire film of Locke takes place in nearly real time during an hour and a half drive undertaken by the main character, Ivan Locke.  Having left work, Ivan sets upon a drive towards an event that threatens to destroy all that he has built in his life.  Taking a series of phone calls, as well as making calls of his own, we piece together not only who this man is, but also what has happened that is causing him to face the possibility of losing it all.

In the trailer of the film and on the film’s poster, a quote is given from the Hollywood Reporter saying that this film “reverberates with the power of big, universal themes”, and this is an accurate description.  And as is fitting in a post-modern landscape where there are more questions than answers, we are left asking some rather large ones:

Are we simply the product of our genetics? Are we able to break the generational cycle in our lives? What is the right thing to do? Is there redemption? What are the consequences of our actions? Is one mistake capable of destroying everything we are, or have built?

With each phone call made and/or received, Ivan Locke finds another crack in the foundation of his life that he has carefully poured.  As he is a concrete supervisor, we get glimpses of the pride he takes in his work and the long amount of time he has been consistent in operating at a high level for his company.  While this commitment at work is seen as commendable, and has provided him the ability to take care of his family and build a life he loves, we also are given glimpses of the consequences of such commitment.  Locke’s wife makes references to the mud-turned-harden-concrete footprints that are all over their house.  While she is referencing something that is literally true, these concrete footprints become a metaphor for their lives that is strikenly evident when certain revelations are made known.

And it is here that we wrestle with the aspect of time.  The movie takes place during a set amount of time, but through it all we get a sense of how Locke has spent his time.  Time, being such a finite resource, is so valuable. To focus one’s time on one thing is to naturally not spend that same amount of time on something else.  It is what is done “one time” that will affect “all time”.  We learn that there is a vast chasm between “once” and “never” in terms of what is done with our time.  And yet, as long as there is time, there is still hope.

This is how we live our lives, striving towards our goals, our dreams, our hopes, and desires with the time we have.  Ivan Locke has used his time in pursuit of all of these things, with a steady head, and a rationality that when put to the test, exposes that he is not as rational as he supposes.

The other aspect of time that is revealed here is between our past and our future.  As Locke is driving, there is much use of the rearview mirror as a way of looking back on a very specific past that is determining where he is driving, both literally and figuratively, into an unknown future.  Often the camera work shows the lights in the traffic and scenery around Locke to be blurred, just as his future through the front windshield is unknown and undecipherable. So often our past is still in the driver’s seat, so to speak, driving our actions in the present.  Locke presents this metaphor very strongly.

Tom Hardy is the only person on screen for the entire film and is mesmerizing in his portrayal of Ivan Locke.  As Bane in the last Batman film, Hardy was a large, brooding, calculating man driven by a specific plan.  Here, Hardy is quite small, soft-spoken, and seeking to deal with the chaos of his unknown future by hanging on to rigid rules, standards, and methods he has followed in his line of work.  But here, he is clearly not in control, even as he wills himself to succeed. His phone calls primarily rotate between a perfect symmetry of two men and two women in his life, along with his two children.  The phone never stops ringing which antagonizes the struggles he has with each of the other characters.  It is the mixture of the foundation he has poured and it all has an effect on him.

Director Steven Knight (Redemption), who also wrote the screenplays for last year’s Closed Circuit, as well as Eastern Promises, wisely allows Hardy’s performance to carry the tension from scene to scene.   The script avoids any manipulation to force the audience into a heightened state of tension, apart from the phone ringing from each new call.  The events of this man’s life, and the potential fallout of his situation are enough.  As a result, this film demonstrates the power of a simple situation that when well-written and ably acted, it is more compelling than all the tricks the Hollywood machine utilizes to get people invested in a lesser quality story, that we see played out each week at the cineplex.

In the end, this story is ultimately about the concrete Locke is so well versed in.  Concrete must be exact.  It must poured a certain way if it is to prove its integrity for the long haul.  Life is not that precise.  To many things find their way into the mixture we pour.  One can try to live according to a set of principles, and rigid disciplines, and whether they have value or not will be proven when the pressure of the structure (i.e. life) is set upon their foundation.  Will the cracks appear?  Will they threaten the foundation they rest upon?

Ultimately, we must take inventory of what we have built with our lives, with one eye on the rearview mirror. Only time will tell the integrity of what we have built.  In Locke, we see this notion as experienced by one man’s life.  By the time he reaches his destination, we will understand whether or not those cracks in his life are too big or not, and whether they bring the whole structure down.

Locke opens Friday, May 9th in select cities, with a gradual roll-out each week in smaller markets.