How much can you take away and still have a movie? Steven Knight's Locke is an experiment in reducing contemporary scree storytelling to its irreducible essentials. It shows us just one actor, on one set, and he never so much as stands up. But it remains, stubbornly, about the only thing that most movies tend to be about anymore: A man in motion, doing stuff, maybe redeeming himself, everyone else in his life — especially the women — problems to be dealt with. His wife? His kid? The woman he got pregnant nine months before? All just voices nattering from his dashboard.
So, yes, this is the movie where Tom Hardy drives for 90 minutes. The story's just sharp enough, about a man trying to prepare a construction site for a high-pressure concrete pour as he races across England to attend the birth of his son by a one-night stand. But what director Knight excels at is continually inventive composition, suggesting through layers of window and reflected traffic the mental state of Locke, the hero. His driving is smooth, his handling of million-dollar workplace complications calm and effective, but when revealing to his wife where he's headed, the silences gape -- and Knight allows the head and taillights around Locke's to slide from focus and go wafer flat, a gorgeous space-out.
Hardy makes a familiar character -- the supremely competent workaholic -- credible and compelling, if never quite fresh. Still, there's something dispiriting about yet another Type A learning that maybe he should take more time for family, all while treating us to the pleasure of watching him coolly triumph at all his Type A biz.