And yes, that really is British actor Tom Hardy—looking a lot like French action star Christopher Lambert in this still—doing the driving in Locke, the upcoming film from director Steven Knight, the writer behind Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises.
If that sounds appealing, have I got the film for you! Because that's what Hardy does from start to finish in Locke: drive. Furthermore, there are no flashbacks, fantasy sequences, or cutaways to other characters. He doesn't even stop to refuel, to take a piss, or to get a bite to eat. And yet Hardy, who plays a Birmingham foreman named Ivan Locke, is hardly alone.
That's because his SUV is wired for sound—the sound of the calls routing through his Bluetooth, that is. As the film begins, he's just gotten a call that Knight keeps off-screen. Locke gets in his vehicle and starts to drive. And that brief, night-shrouded image represents the last time the director will depict the actor in full.
The contents of the call soon become clear as Locke informs his wife (voiced by Luther's Ruth Wilson), his boss (Ben Daniels), and his assistant (Andrew Scott, Sherlock's Moriarty) that he: 1) won't be home that night to watch the soccer match with his sons, and 2) won't be back in time for the concrete-foundation pour scheduled for 5am. Someone in London needs him more. The reason why is both prosaic and life-changing, and I won't say more about it than that.
For those who know Hardy best from his larger-than-life roles as Bane and Michael "Charles Bronson" Peterson, the film will be either a revelation or a snooze—and there's no reason to think that it can't be both, though I found it more engaging than not. Above all: Locke represents a savvy move on the actor's part.
There was a time when the 36-year-old Londoner was the go-to guy for period TV dramas, and there's nothing wrong with that, except that it can limit an actor's career (and it's worth noting that he's currently working on a period TV drama with Knight and Ridley Scott, but as the producer-creator, he gets to call more shots).
The not-so-dark Knight rises last week at SIFF Cinema Uptown / K.C. Fennessy
After Drive's Nicolas Winding Refn tapped him to play the brutal convict at the heart of 2008's Bronson, a film denied a proper Seattle release, Hardy completely changed his fortunes, just as neatly as Eric Bana in 2000's Chopper (before playing Eric "Chopper" Read, the brutal convict at the heart of Andrew Dominik's screen portrait, Bana was best known in Australia as a stand-up comedian).
After Bane, Bronson, and the monosyllabic MMA fighter he played in Warrior, however, Hardy was in danger of getting typecast again. Some actors couldn't give a shit, especially if they've been struggling for years. They take the money and they run. Hardy is working from a different playbook. Though I'm not as convinced as some that he's one of the greats—a word that gets tossed around far more than it should—he's on his way, and that can be exciting to watch.
In Locke, Hardy is the whole show. Denied the use of his body, he has to do all the acting with his face and his voice. Though I found his Welsh accent a little odd, he gets the job done. At the Q&A with writer-director Knight after last week's sneak preview, SIFF programmer Clinton McClung noted that Hardy takes on a Brooklyn accent in the upcoming Dennis Lehane adaptation, The Drop, from Bullhead filmmaker Michaël R. Roskam, and I'm already looking forward to that.
I'm sure Hardy can play a New Yorker just fine, though his biggest challenge is yet to come: when he assumes the role of Elton John in the biopic Rocketman. Whether he can pull that off or not, I have no idea—and he's just about the last person I would've cast—but I give him credit for trying, and I hope he lives a long, long time, because I believe Tom Hardy has plenty more surprises up his sleeve.
P.S. At the Q&A, Knight explained that he named Locke, a highly rational man, after the 17th-century philosopher John Locke, and it makes thematic sense, but since the writers of Lost already did the same thing with Terry O'Quinn's character, I kind of wish he had gone another way. Then again: Drive was already taken.
Locke opens in Seattle on May 9 at the Harvard Exit and in Bellevue at Lincoln Square Cinemas. The Drop opens nationwide in September (details TBA).