At first, we’re only seeing the peripheries: industrial concrete, boots on the shimmering asphalt of some anonymous construction site and then, eventually, the slamming of a car door, which is where we find a focus point, Ivan Locke, and settle into pretty much the only view we’ll see: a long drive through his dark night of the soul. Neither Ivan nor the cameras leave that vehicle for Locke‘s 90-minute duration, as this everyman in crisis tries to keep his average life from falling apart—we watch him reveal an affair to his wife, attempt to save the big construction job he’s presently ditching out on, and listen to a one-time lover’s panic as she enters childbirth. All over hands-free speakerphone!
You could say that Locke is desperately trying to maintain a sense of order as his personal and professional life slips into total chaos. And in that, his name isn’t such a random pick..
“It’s very Lockean,” director Steven Knight says over a speakerphone’s subtle echo (unlike the film’s protagonist, he wasn’t driving). “In other words, [like] John Locke, the rationalist philosopher who believed in reason and order and taming the chaos. That’s what Ivan is trying to do.”
The idea of limiting a film’s scope to a car-ride came when Knight—writer of David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, as well as creator of Who Wants to Be a Millionare?—was filming a very different kind of movie. Hummingbird, a thriller with Jason Statham in the lead, found Knight testing out night-time filming around cars.
“When we looked at the footage I thought it was beautiful, and hypnotic,” he recalls, “And at first I thought that it would be great just to see that. But then I thought you could use that as your theatre: put an actor in that, and shoot a play, effectively, inside that theatre.”
The idea was intriguing enough to secure Tom Hardy as the lead and singularly visible character; his curiosity was piqued by the challenge of acting alone, in a vehicle in real-time (“His interest is the craft of acting,” Knight notes). They first discussed it in November; Knight quickly penned a scenario, and they were shooting by February, in full-length takes captured with a trio of cameras positioned in, on and around the car.
“I would say action only once, and we would shoot the whole film beginning to end, take a break and shoot it again,” Knight says.
He ended up with 16 versions of Locke, the finished film pulled from across that spread of performances, finding an arc that best captured the moment of everyman ennui Knight was after.
“I wanted to see the drama in an ordinary life, and do it justice,” he says. “I wanted to create a situation where, for the people involved, it’s the end of the world, but it’s not gonna make the papers or the local news,” he says. “It’s something that could happen to anyone. And then I wanted the extraordinariness to be in the way that he responded to it, and his single-mindedness.”
Directed by Steven Knight