locke-movie-photo-4A man walks off a construction site at the end of the work day and gets into his car. He drives.

That is a full accounting of the action in Locke, one of the most original, intriguing and effective movies you are likely to see this year. Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, who over the course of a drive from one English city to another, shown more or less in real time, will put into effect a decision that will shatter his life.

The vehicle for driving this narrative is not the automobile, but the speaker phone in his car as he holds a series of conversations with family members and work colleagues that reveal the nature of and reasons for his decision as well as the devastating implications of his choice.

“The difference between never and once is the difference between good and bad,” he hears in the course of one of these conversations, a line which reverberates through the film. The situation Locke faces, achingly familiar, gives lie to the belief that there is always a “right” thing to do. More often than not, the decisions we face in life are like the Kobayashi Maru scenario, a no-win choice in which our concepts of morality are at war with our sense of pragmatism.

Locke is a modern-day George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life. Over the span of the 85 minutes of the film, he learns how each man’s life touches so many others, but he is not accompanied on this journey by an angel. A ghost from the past is in the car with him, and Locke angrily confronts the invisible presence between his phone conversations.

The entirety of the movie is Locke driving with the exception of a few establishing shots of the highway, the city skyline, and the nightscape. There are no flashbacks. There are no scenes with any other characters on screen. There is Tom Hardy, and there are the voices coming over the speaker. As a result, the film has some of the qualities of a radio play in that the viewer becomes the listener, focusing intently on voices and dialogue. The downside is that we do not get to see, but only hear, Ruth Wilson, who was so delicious as the sociopath Alice Morgan in the BBC series, Luther. Wilson is stellar in her voice work here as are Andrew Scott and Ben Daniels.

Generally, moviegoing is a communal experience. Sitting in the dark, sharing space with an auditorium full of strangers, we laugh harder at comedies than we would if we were alone. We are more likely to cry when we hear a stifled sob behind us. Fear and tension are heightened by another’s gasp. The experience of seeing Locke is different. The movie isolates the audience and reminds us of how, on a basic level, we are alienated from all those around us. Our thoughts are uniquely are own. Our logic cannot always be grasped by others. Our needs are not always met with understanding.

Steven Knight wrote and directed Locke. He deserves full credit, along with Hardy, for bringing this unique work to the screen.

Three and a half stars.

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