While much has rightly been said and written about women's changing roles in society, the shifting responsibilities of men has earned considerably less airtime and digital ink. When men's main function was as the family's sole breadwinner and less was understood about childhood development, it was permissible (and often expected) that men had little role in their children's lives aside from being the provider and disciplinarian. But with the benefit of decades of observation and child psychology, we can no longer ignore the importance fathers play in a child's life, with the pressures of a demanding job no longer serving as an adequate excuse for a father's absence. That's the balancing act Ivan Locke finds himself in during the film Locke, as he attempts to be present for the birth of his illegitimate child even if it destroys his family and endangers the biggest accomplishment of his career. Watch the trailer for Locke below.
Tom Hardy plays Ivan, and the film takes place almost entirely in his car (other actors are heard but not seen) and plays out mostly in real time as Ivan drives from a worksite in Birmingham, England in the dead of night on his way to London. A woman Ivan had a fling with named Bethan (Olivia Colman) has gone into early labor, and the timing couldn't be worse -- not only is he expected home to watch a big soccer match with his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) and kids (Tom Holland and Bill Milner), but Ivan is hours from overseeing the biggest concrete pour in Europe's history, which will serve as the foundation of a 55-story building that will be Ivan's crowning achievement.
Scarred and bitter about his father's absence in his life, Ivan has committed himself to doing the right thing and being present for the birth of his son, even if it means shirking his duties as a husband and a construction manager. The drive is Ivan's attempt to take responsibility for his actions, setting off a cascade of speakerphone calls with his wife, sons, Bethan, his boss (Ben Daniels), and a beleaguered, sometimes drunken colleague (Andrew Scott) who Ivan must lead through the process of making sure the cement is delivered and in the right ratios, where shoddy work could lead to a cracked foundation that could eventually bring the building down.
Despite the soothing, hypnotic effect of swirling highway lights at night, emotions and tensions rise with each passing mile, and not only because years of public service announcements now make my palms sweat watching a driver as distracted as Ivan as he fiddles with his dashboard phone menus. But one of my main requirements for movies is that they feel like movies, and while Locke is smartly staged, I couldn't shake the feeling that Locke -- with its single confined setting -- would be more impressive as a play, which seems to be the story's natural format. While a play of Locke might miss some of Hardy's subtle expressions, Locke is a man doing his best to remain calm and in control of his emotions, perhaps to a fault. And I often felt that his calm, lilting Welsh accent in the midst of an emotional and professional maelstrom was more of a distraction than a counterpoint.
It's impossible not to feel sympathy for Locke -- despite one drunken indiscretion, he is by all accounts a good father and a dependable professional. And even though this is ultimately a mess of his own making, it's hard not to respect Ivan's commitment to taking responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Locke is an appropriate name for the film and a character who has admirably chained himself to his decision to be involved in his new son's life, with concrete serving as a metaphor throughout the film for the catastrophic dangers that can result from small mistakes and flawed beginnings.