“If the traffic is good” is what sets Locke apart from the thriller it’s advertised as and the one-man drama it really is. All of the emotions of a man trapped in a car having to confront the consequences of his actions are summed up in that one phrase.
“Locke” is the story of a man who has to be in the car but doesn’t want to, but who has to be because of one night of pity sex with a plain woman from work. As a result his entire world including his family and career come slowly crashing down.
“If the traffic is good” is something the character Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) continuously tells his one-time mistress regarding his ETA to the hospital in London where she is having his bastard child. “I’ll be there in 2 hours, if the traffic is good”, said calmly by Locke, who is acting responsibly but with such reluctance that it’s obvious he doesn’t want to be on the road.
And why would he? Not only is she incessantly needy (she’s always complaining about the window being open or not having enough blankets) but on the way he is constantly cycling between phone calls with his wife, who has kicked him out for obvious reasons and work, where he is promptly fired given how he will not be there for a big construction project the next day.
Filming in real time (supposedly the camera crew only stopped filming to change the memory cards in the camera) the movie slowly moves through situation Locke has to deal as they devolve from manageable to absolute chaos.
Set entirely in the car with constant conversation, the dialogue rings with a sense of confusion and heartache on the side of the wife, mistress, and work colleague, none of whom understand what the hell is happening or why Locke doesn’t seem to take things as seriously.
He does take them seriously. He has just been preparing for this day and is handling these conversations as if they were a prepared speech, as if he has already planned them all in his head. His calm, fatherly tone is only broken between conversations when he screams and swears and has vicious arguments with his abusive father he imagines sitting in the back seat. He has prepared these speeches, but he never imagined he would end up like him.
Done with what is Hardy’s most natural performance, at one moment calm and reassuring and the next succumbing to this Hell ride, Locke is a tremendous example of a simple film with a firm grip on what it wants and tells story with supreme confidence. Director Steven Knight traps you in a claustrophobic environment, rarely leaving Hardy’s side. Every conversation is necessary to convey the unexpectedness of life, even if the most controlled of situations. One moment you have a perfect life, the next everything is gone, and you haven’t even gotten out of the car. Needless to say I turn my phone off now whenever I get in the car.