Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) has the moral equivalent of 99 problems. They’re all happening at once and any single one of them has the power to alter his life forever. A chance meeting with a couple bottles of wine and a lonely woman has resulted in a pregnancy that he’s chosen to support, determined to be as little like his own absent father as possible. But when she goes into labor early, on the same day that he’s meant to oversee the concrete pouring for an enormous building project, he has to make a choice: his job or his newborn child. There’s more trouble, of course, as he’s already happily married with two sons of his own and he’s been putting off telling the wife about the pregnancy until the “right” moment. So he gets in his car to drive to the delivery room.
Locke’s one-man show takes place in the enclosed space of that car. The unusually-calm-yet-exceptionally-talkative builder spends the 85 minute running time behind the wheel, all the way from the construction site to the hospital, navigating a British freeway and juggling multiple speakerphone conversations with his son, his boss, his assistant, the pregnant woman, hospital staff and his wife, all the while consulting work plans on the site-specific details for the proper pouring of concrete. With the exception of windshield reflection and POV shots of cars in front slowing his journey, every moment closes in on Hardy’s increasingly distressed face. He rubs his tired eyes and beard and he only loses his composure when not on the phone. Screaming at the empty back seat where, at least in Locke's own mind, the memory of the father who abandoned him lives on, he uses that downtime to explain himself and his actions in ways he refuses to unleash on real, live people. To do anything more would sound like a deadbeat's excuse.
In a tight box of glass illuminated only by dashboard controls and passing headlights, Locke is shrouded in literal and figurative darkness. His expertly controlled world will, in all probability, collapse thanks to one wrong move, a mistake he speaks of directly and then analogously when worrying aloud about pouring strong enough concrete to preserve the foundation of the building he’s been assigned to manage.
It’s a bit of symbolism that feels a little too on-the-nose for a film that can’t open itself past whatever’s available to see in a rearview mirror. And the backstory moments of dad-anguish threaten to turn everything overripe, but Hardy keeps it all mostly under his control. His talent is forcing your sympathy for the trapped everyman and it's a similar feat to the one he pulled off more effectively as the wounded fighter in the underrated Warrior. He's kind of a fixer, just like Locke, keeping his head well above the drowning mark of self-indulgence, taking something that could all fall to pieces -- you'll worry for him well past the closing credits -- and somehow holding it together.